Friday, April 16, 2010

A Thread of Grace

A Thread of Grace A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the 3rd book by Mary Doria Russell that I've read (the first two being The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God). All of these books have similar themes though they are presented in entirely different ways. In this one, Russell tells the story of Jewish refugees in northern Italy during WWII, and of the help they received from Italians – both Christians and Jews. But again she explores themes of faith, choices, and good intentions gone awry.

We follow the lives of many different people – Jewish refugees, Italian Jews, Italian Christians, and Nazis. There are a lot of characters, but they (almost) all are well-rounded, believable and necessary to the story. (I quibble with the necessity of a couple of minor characters, but even they, I suppose, serve a purpose that the other characters could not.)

Much like her first two books, this one was difficult to read because of the suffering of the characters. Because the events portrayed were based on real people and real events, it seemed even more difficult for me, at times. (I have always been greatly saddened and horrified by the Holocaust.) I had to keep reminding myself of the GOOD things done by many people, such as hiding the Jews even at personal risk. It helps to remember that as depraved as humans can be, we are also capable of amazing acts of love and self-sacrifice. (Indeed, the title is taken from a Hebrew saying: 'No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there is always a thread of grace.')

I hadn't known anything about this portion of WWII, so it was interesting to learn about the Italian resistance and the sanctuary and assistance offered by many Italians. I also learned a lot about the war in Italy as a whole.

But, this isn't a history book, really. It's an exploration of morality – why do some people do 'bad' things while others choose to do good? And the book also shows the horror and devastation that war wreaks on civilians. The innocent are always killed. Was it worth it? In the big picture, we say yes – we had to oppose Hitler, But for the individual lives lost or ruined, was it worth it to them? Many willingly put themselves at risk for the greater good, but many who just wanted to survive did not. Is it even possible to NOT take part in something like the fight against the Nazis? If you do nothing, are you a collaborator?

You will ask yourself these questions, and others when you read this book.

The last lines of the novel reach to the heart of its purpose: “ the end, did Klara Hitler's sickly son ever fire a gun? One hollow, hateful little man. One last awful thought: all the harm he eve did was done for him by others.”

I anxiously await Ms. Russell's next book.

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