Book Review: The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian


Rating: 4.5 / 5

It is the mid 1950s in Italy, and Francesca Rosati has been found murdered in her apartment by her sister-in-law Cristina.  What makes this even more gruesome is that Francesca’s heart has been cut out and placed nearby.  Serrafina Benetti, Florence’s first homicide detective, is tasked with solving this case.  Before World War II, the Rosati family was held in high esteem.  Antonio Rosati, Francesca’s father-in-law, was a marchese, and the family lived at the beautiful Tuscan estate, Villa Chimera.  The war ravaged Tuscany, and the Rosati’s were hit hard; Villa Chimera was forced to billet soldiers,  and many Rosati family members met their tragic end during the war.  As Serafina explores the Rosati family history and why someone would kill Francesca, she is faced with the fact that her tramatic past might actually tie in with the Rosati family.

If you’ve ever read any of Chris Bohjalian’s books, you know he is a gifted writer, and The Light in the Ruins doesn’t disappoint.  When a book starts out being told from a killer’s point of view, you know you’re going to stay up late reading.  Growing up in America (and this may be a glimpse into my ignorance), most of history is taught from a country-centric viewpoint.  Reading The Light in the Ruins, I learned so much about Italian history, and during World War II, especially the sacrifices some families made in terms of working with the Nazis to save themselves and later being shunned by neighbors for their actions.  The Rosati’s made difficult choices, and unlike what many people thought afterwards, did not ally with the Nazis for any reason other than a chance at surviving the war.

One of the main reasons I’m such a fan of Bohjalian is because of his ability to bring his characters to life. I must have read The Double Bind a good three to four years ago, but the main character, Laura, has stayed with me (hundreds of books later I still remember her name). That right there is a good indication of Bohjalian’s writing ability.  With The Light in the Ruins, there are multiple characters, but Bohajlian makes them each distinct and memorable, from Serafina’s tragic past, to Cristina’s illicit relationship with a Nazi soldier, to even the killer’s reasons for targeting the Rosatis.  The characters face moral dilemmas, and instead of being black and white, this novel operates in shades of grey, making the reader empathize with difficult situations and even harder choices.

The Light in the Ruins is a beautiful read.  It is haunting and tragic, and brings to life a heartbreaking time in Tuscany.  I loved this novel from beginning to end and hope you will too.

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