From Sand and Ash
by Amy Harmon
Lake Union Publishing
Formats available: Hardback, Paperback, Electronic, Audio
Pub Date: 12.1.16| 372 pages
REVIEWER: Sophia Rose
Book was provided by publisher. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
Italy, 1943—Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II.
As children, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family but divided by circumstance and religion. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love. But the church calls to Angelo and, despite his deep feelings for Eva, he chooses the priesthood.
Now, more than a decade later, Angelo is a Catholic priest and Eva is a woman with nowhere to turn. With the Gestapo closing in, Angelo hides Eva within the walls of a convent, where Eva discovers she is just one of many Jews being sheltered by the Catholic Church.
But Eva can’t quietly hide, waiting for deliverance, while Angelo risks everything to keep her safe. With the world at war and so many in need, Angelo and Eva face trial after trial, choice after agonizing choice, until fate and fortune finally collide, leaving them with the most difficult decision of all. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29638166-from-sand-and-ash
I have been meaning to try one of this author’s books for a few years now. I knew it would be fantastic since several book buddies rave about her books, but I also knew that she tends to bring out all the feels in her readers. Now, I’m not opposed to books that make me feel- quite the opposite, in fact. However, I have to be in just the right mood for stories set during specific times in history that were horrific and will make me shed tears without much provocation. I was finally in just such a mood and From Sand and Ash transported me to another time and place, immersed me in a setting, a situation, and with characters that I engaged with almost immediately.
The story opens with a desperate scene and then goes back in time to bring the reader up to speed on just how things have reached this point. The story begins when they are young and continues forward in alternating perspectives between Italian Jew Eva and Italian Catholic Angelo. They were somewhere between friends and adopted siblings when Angelo, at the age of eleven, came from America after his mother died to live with his grandparents in Florence where they kept house for a Jewish Glass works owner and his daughter, Eva.
They have little religious conflict as they both see each other as children of God, but the conflict arises when Angelo, who was always meant for the church, continues his path to the priesthood in spite of the love he shares with Eva which breaks both their hearts. Angelo has a hero complex and then later when Fascist and Nazis are at their darkest work, he knows that he is well-placed to work to save many including Eva herself. But, yes, it was tough seeing him choose the way he did.
The author did her homework and produced an endearing human story, but also set it well in the historical backdrop. I’ve read several WWII era stories involving the Jewish plight or the Resistance work in occupied countries, but I think this was my first one for Italian Jews and the role the Catholic Church played during this time. First under Mussolini’s Fascists and then when Italy was occupied by Hitler’s Nazis there was a progression of laws changing, propaganda against the Jews, turning them into jobless refugees in their own country, and then, toward the end, the trains to the camps, the mass killings, and everyone living in terror. The author made up her key players, but notes that she laced this one with true events that if even a fraction were true is just sickening. But, that said, she didn’t attempt to titillate or shock for shock’s sake. It all wove in with the story of her characters.
There is a whiff of magical realism that was unexpected, but not unappreciated. I thought it was a nice touch just as I thought the big coincidence in the end was most welcome- a wonderful heartwarming moment. This story brings tears and sadness, but it also warmed my heart and left my romantic side well satisfied. I will not be a stranger to this author’s writing and look forward to more of her historical romantic fiction.