From the publisher:
At his beloved Nonno Paolo’s deathbed, fifteen-year-old Nico receives a gift that will change his life forever: a yellowing manuscript which tells the haunting, twisty tale of what really happened to his grandfather in Nazi-occupied Venice in 1943.
The Palazzo Colombina is home to the Uccello family: three generations of men, trapped together in the dusty palace on Venice’s Grand Canal. Awkward fifteen-year-old Nico. His distant, business-focused father. And his beloved grandfather, Paolo. Paolo is dying. But before he passes, he has secrets he’s waited his whole life to share.
When a Jewish classmate is attacked by bullies, Nico just watches – earning him a week’s suspension and a typed, yellowing manuscript from his frail Nonno Paolo. A history lesson, his grandfather says. A secret he must keep from his father. A tale of blood and madness . . .
Nico is transported back to the Venice of 1943, an occupied city seething under its Nazi overlords, and to the defining moment of his grandfather’s life: when Paolo’s support for a murdered Jewish woman brings him into the sights of the city’s underground resistance. Hooked and unsettled, Nico can’t stop reading – but he soon wonders if he ever knew his beloved grandfather at all.
Italy entered World War II on the side of Germany, no doubt convinced by Mussolini, the Italian dictator that it would be best to ally themselves with Hitler. The love affair between the two did not last through the entire war and while remnants of the Italian army still served with German troops, Hitler sent an army of occupation to Italy to ensure that the country stayed loyal.
Hewson’s book is set in the city of Venice during the Nazi occupation and does an exemplary job of depicting the horrors inflicted by the Germans on the civilian population.
Nonno Paolo is a man that lived through the occupation and has kept his ordeals to himself for many years. The novel opens when Nonno is on his deathbed some fifty plus years after the end of the occupation. He calls his grandson to his side and indicates that he wants to communicate something that must remain between the two and not told to the boy’s father.
Nicco, the grandson, is asked to read a series of manuscripts prepared by his grandfather. What is contained in these writings will be left to Nicco to interpret for himself although his grandfather would like to discuss them with him and get his ideas.
The family was engaged in building a business involving the highly skilled weaving of fabrics centered in Venice when the Nazis began their occupation. Hitler’s policies of anti Jewish, Gypsy and Homo sexual groups is adopted by Mussolini and incorporated into a code similar to the Nurenberg laws existing in Germany. A conundrum is placed upon the family when they are asked to shelter a Jewish brother and sister that had been in the Italian resistance and ambushed a group of Germany troops. Sheltering such fugitives could mean death to the family caught sheltering them. When it was explained that the sheltering would be only a little while it was decided to go ahead and offer a short term haven for the two.
In order to help out while there the brother decides to learn how to weave and aid on a project that would bring in some much needed revenue. Nonno and the brother become friends and close during the activity while the sister thinks only of action against the Nazis. Events taking place and the frights endured by all involved are carefully delineated and make for a uniquely rewarding story of another time and the circumstances peculiar to the period. The reader will find him or herself unable to put the book down and commiserating with the participants in the novel. A very rewarding read culminating in an unexpected but logical ending.
5/2021 Paul Lane
THE GARDEN OF ANGELS by David Hewson. Severn House Publishers (April 6, 2021). ISBN: 978-1250257208. 304 pages.