Reviewed by Emma Crowley
In 1943, Contessa Sofia de' Corsi's peaceful Tuscan villa among the olive groves is upturned by the sudden arrival of German soldiers. Desperate to fight back, she agrees to shelter a wounded British radio engineer in her home, keeping him hidden from her husband Lorenzo - knowing that she is putting all of their lives at risk.
When Maxine, an Italian-American working for the resistance, arrives on Sofia's doorstep, the pair forge an uneasy alliance. Feisty, independent Maxine promised herself never to fall in love. But when she meets a handsome partisan named Marco, she realizes it's a promise she can't keep...
Before long, the two women find themselves entangled in a dangerous game with the Nazis. Will they be discovered? And will they both be able to save the ones they love?
Many thanks to Penguin Books Uk via NetGalley for my copy of The Tuscan Countessa to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Dinah Jefferies new book The Tuscan Contessa takes us deep into the heart of the Tuscan countryside and is set during the last two years of World War Two. It follows two strong, brave and courageous women, Sofia, the contessa of the title, and Italian/American Maxine. They are poles apart in terms of personality and background but circumstances bring them together and they must work in close quarters to aid the allies and the resistance in their bid to bring about the end of war.
At the very beginning there was a detailed timeline of the events of the war from the Italian point of view and I was glad that this was included because it helped me understand what had happened prior to the book beginning in 1943. It also gave me a deeper comprehension of how the Italians had been struggling to cope with all the horrific events and traumas that they had been enduring for many years.
Sofia lives in the Castello de’Corsi and is married to Lorenzo, they are quite well off and respected in their community. They do their best to make sure the residents are kept safe and looked after but times are tough. Food is becoming ever more scare and most of the men have gone away to fight or joined the resistance and are therefore hiding away in the hills. The women are mostly left in the area with the young children but this means that the women and the crucial roles they played are allowed to shine throughout the story. They are never to be under estimated and their age old roles of having children and keeping the house running go out the window and rightly so as they become astute and adept at keeping things secret and playing roles the Germans would never have expected them to do.
Lorenzo is old school, he doesn’t think that Sofia should play any part no matter how big or small in aiding the resistance. He fears for her safety and that of their extended family but really he needed to give her more credit and to try and not treat her as if she couldn’t cope with things. Lorenzo spends the majority of this book away from the Castello as he works for the ministry of agriculture but you sense that he too is involved in important war work for the overall cause. To this end Sofia keeps her activities secret from her husband. She offers shelter when needed, food and medical help when ever she can and she feels that what she is doing is vital and important. But all the women long for their lives to return to some sort of normality, to a time when things were less complicated and there were no sides to choose from.
Danger lurks around every corner and this heightened sense of wariness and unease as they engage in secretive work oozes from every page. There is never a sense of happiness, enjoyment and relaxation. How could there be during a time of war when the Germans lurk around every corner as Sofia knows all too well as they come calling to her door. But she firmly believes that that essential human contact of love is the one thing that will pull herself and Lorenzo through all this. But at what cost will it take and how many will be lost or suffer in the process?
Alongside Sofia is Maxine who was Italian by birth but grew up in America. She is now working as SOE agent for the British to assist in espionage, sabotage or reconnaissance. She will be required to liaise between the allies and the resistance networks. This is a high risk operation but Maxine was certainly the one for the job. She was a brilliant character, a woman ahead of her time who was outspoken, fearless, gutsy, independent, brave and sassy. She always threw caution to the wind and placed herself in the most tightest of spots when it came to danger. Maxine lives life on the edge and similar to Sofia she puts her own life on the line for a greater cause.
Both women could have just turned a blind eye to what was going on and just muddled through the war years as best they could, keeping a low profile and emerging safe and unharmed both emotionally and physically out the other side. But that wouldn’t have sat right with either of them and this book showed how there were so many women of this nature that did so many brave things during the war and all with one common goal in mind. Maxine is solely focused on her war work. She has no time for love or to become entrapped by marriage as she believes love is the surest trap to a woman’s downfall. But somewhere along the line that might begin to change but if it does will it only bring the heartache that she has so desperately sought to avoid?
I have loved the novels of Dinah Jefferies right from her debut The Separation but I do feel that her books sets in the Far East capture my attention much more than those that are not. The Tuscan Contessa was a good read, rich in historical detail with clearly such extensive research carried out. The visual descriptions are amazing and I could visualise everything so clearly in my head but I wasn’t blown away by this book. I was waiting for that big moment of reveal that would leave me reeling in shock but it never came. I felt we knew too much in that everything was laid bare and I wanted more of a mystery throughout. The story is very much driven by the historical events and at times they overshadowed the characters with things happening at such speed that you did become confused at some points. As I have said, this is a good book but it’s not my favourite by this author whose books I really do love. I’ll always read anything that Dinah publishes because I know she is a talented author who really can bring stories to life and have you deeply invested. Sadly The Tuscan Contessa didn’t always do that for me although there were points where I was completely enthralled but just not the entire way through.