Anita Abriel, the internationally bestselling author of The Light After the War, delivers a historical fiction account in her recent novel, A GIRL DURING THE WAR, of how preserving works of art and the lives of innocent victims of Hitler’s monstrous schemes are the central themes.
The protagonist, Marina, a young art history student, knew that running a safe house was punishable by death, but what she did not know was that her father had turned their home into one. Upon discovering that unsettling fact, Marina feared imminent discovery by the SS, so she fled to Rome, and soon after took refuge in a friend’s villa in the Tuscan countryside. Eventually, Marina connected and worked with a group of partisans, who were former members of the Italian military, but who had switched allegiances when Italy changed sides from the Axis powers to the Allies.
The famed city of Florence, which held the treasure trove of art, was also under siege and the fear of losing its cherished cache of Masters drove Marina and her accomplices to take perilous risks to save them. It is there where Marina found romance and purpose among the ruins of an ongoing war.
Locating and protecting stolen, hidden, and lost art treasures was challenging, but for Marina and her compatriots, saving Jews and the lives of those who helped them proved the most dangerous of their exploits.
Betrayal, or the fear of its imminence, was a constant fear at the height of Marina’s clandestine undertakings. Carlos, her confidant, and lover disappeared after embarking upon one of his secret trips to help Jews escape their planned fate at the hands of the genocidal Nazis. Despite the darkness that enveloped Marina’s world, she held steadfastly to her hopes that her two loves would return to her safely, Carlos and the stolen works of art. As for the Nazis, she believed they would suffer defeat, and truth and beauty would win in the end.
Although Abrile’s book is historical fiction, the author curiously makes a point of citing how during WWII Pope Pious XII openly defended the Jews against Hitler. However, history tells quite of a different story, which became the foundation for later criticism of Pope Pious XII.
However, Abrile does stay true to historical fact when her story’s hero, Marina, describes the ‘rat lines’ of Nazi war criminals who secretly escaped from Germany, then traveled to Rome, and finally landed in Argentina, clutching the art, jewelry, and money they looted from the Jews they had murdered.
Marina’s passage from Rome, to Florence, to Switzerland and finally disembarking in Buenos Aires was long and arduous both emotionally and physically, a journey fraught with intrigue, danger, and love. Once she arrived in Buenos Aires, she learned that to live life fully, she had to learn to tango.
I found the novel entertaining, informative, and laced with intrigue and mystery, which are sure to hold the reader steadfastly interested in the outcome of its characters and events.