In a tiny hamlet nestled in the Tuscan mountains, farmers gather after a hard day in the meadows, and children’s laughter rings across the square: but one little boy does not join in their play. Behind his deep brown eyes, hides a heartbreaking secret…
Ninety years later. When elderly Giselda Chiozzi discovers a lost little boy, curled up asleep in the beech forest outside her grand but empty home, she can’t help but take pity on him. It’s been a long time since she had a visitor. Waking up to her kind smile and the warming smell of Italian hot chocolate, Davide soon blurts out what drove him into the cold Tuscan night: he’s different from everyone else, he’s never belonged anywhere, and now his beloved mother is ill.
With her heart full of sadness for this lost child, Giselda promises to help Davide trace his family history – she knows better than anyone that connecting with your roots can ground you in the present, and hopes it will make Davide realise that home is where he truly belongs.
Together the unlikely pair discover the story of Davide’s great-grandfather, Giuseppe Starnucci, a young boy who spent his days milking cows, helping with the harvest, and hammering horseshoes in the forge. But after a terrible incident that changed his life forever, Giuseppe also ran away. Forced to become a man before his time, Giuseppe joined the treacherous pilgrimage all Tuscan farmers must make from the mountains to the plains, sacrificing everything to ensure the survival of their families.
Engrossed in the story, Davide is slowly starting to heal when he and Giselda discover a shocking secret which Giuseppe took to his grave – and which now threatens to tear apart Davide’s family for good. Will Davide let the pain of the past determine his future, or can he find the courage, love and loyalty within him to return home… and even if Davide himself finds peace, will it be too late for Giselda?
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of A Tuscan Memory to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
A Tuscan Memory is the third book that I have read by Angela Petch set in an area of Italy that the author really brings to life. She has a wonderful way of creating such vivid imagery of a place that I have never been to before but yet I feel the story comes alive because of such careful and in-depth research and also because the author has a real and genuine interest for her subject matter. The Tuscan countryside obviously means a lot to the author and through reading these books I have come to appreciate both the setting and its history. All three books are interconnected as several characters reappear in each book but each is still easily read as a stand alone story. A Tuscan Memory was an enjoyable and relaxing read that followed the lives of families many years apart which showed how generations stayed the same but also how they were changed through world and local events.
In the present day Francessco and Anna are raising their three children, twins, Rosanna and Emilia, their young son Davide and Francessco’s daughter Alba who is now on the cusp of adulthood with some major decisions to make. Anna had featured in the first book, The Tuscan Secret, so I was familiar with her and Francessco’s back story and I was delighted that they would feature again so prominently as I had always felt there was more to their story that needed to be told. Anna is struggling with life and trying to keep up to date with all the goings on of her children on a daily basis. Combined with this she also feels her closeness with her husband is slowly dissipating but it is she who is turning him away when he tries to make contact. What is causing her to be like this? Why is she so tired all the time with no energy to muster to do the normal everyday things?
Right from the start Anna had me worried and at some points I felt like I almost didn’t want to read on for fear of what would unfold. I did anticipate that this storyline with Anna and her family would continue on for longer but it was almost over before it began and the result was explained away in a mere sentence and considering how much build up to it that there had been I was expecting a more in-depth resolution and to see how this would have affected all the characters involved. Overall I found this happened a lot with the book that things were mentioned and I think most readers would have liked some development but subjects, events or feelings seemed to be broached and then not covered or dealt with in enough detail. There was just a bit too much of glossing over of things for me.
I really felt for Anna’s son Davide. He was struggling with school and his fellow classmates and all because of his English heritage and I thought Anna was so caught up in what was going on in her own life that she neglected her son. But it’s when Davide decides to run away, admittedly not very far, that he finds a hut and meets Giselda, the last of the Chiozzi family who were once the richest landowners in the area. Giselda was a bit eccentric but there was something really likeable about her character. She gave Davide the solace and support he needed and her wise words did a lot to make him feel better about himself. She made Davide realise that how we face up to difficulties is what makes us into the people we are.
When reading the blub for this book, I expected to really enjoy Anna’s side of the story as I had loved her story in the first book, so it was a total surprise to find that it was in fact the story told in the past that really caught my attention throughout. We first meet Giuseppe in 1917 as he prepares to steal away from his house in the middle of the night. For what we do not know but I knew for sure that I wanted to find out more. We go back two years earlier to 1915 and become accustomed to the life that Giuseppe and his family lead in the Apennine mountains. Theirs is a small community but the bonds are strong as life is tough especially during the winter months. What is gathered during the Summer must last them through the Winter months as the men from the village leave for the transumanza. I found the concept of the transumanza to be fascinating and it helped me understand how Giuseppe felt he really needed to be part of this as it offered him a form of escape when he needed it the most. The men from the village would take the sheep from the mountains to the coastal area during the winter months where there was better grazing and where money could be made. It was a tough life but it formed part of their heritage and without this concept Giuseppe’s story would have been very different.
When we first met Giuseppe, I thought he was young, naïve and an innocent who relied heavily on his family and would have done anything to please them. They struggled to get by but did the best they could with what they had. When the local padre secures a place for Giuseppe in the seminary the family are pleased and will scrap the money together to send him. For Giuseppe this a life changing experience in more ways than one and I didn’t think he was really cut out for it. He would much rather become a teacher but whilst at the seminary he does his best to please the monks and his family. What befalls him at this pivotal time affects him deeply for the rest of his life and in turn his life path is altered and he flees the seminary to his home town and soon becomes part of the transumanza. I thought Giuseppe was brave to do what he did as his family had made such efforts to enable him to attend the seminary yet what happened to him could not continue. As the story progresses and the years pass by I kept wondering what was the connection between Guiseppe and the modern day story and in the end I was delighted that I hadn’t guessed at it.
Instead I thought the book became much better than it had been as I become totally caught up and invested in Guiseppe’s life. The author showed how a single moment or an event can change someone’s entire life forever and their destiny could be further shaped and altered. Guiseppe had faced many challenges in his life but still his greatest were ahead of him. Another character that made an appearance every now and again was Marisa. She was almost like an enigma and due to a condition she had was seemingly left on the shelf and in some ways was an outcast in the village. I desperately wanted to know more about her and again questioned how she fitted into the bigger picture. Again as with Guiseppe, I felt there was to be plenty of twists and turns to her story and I couldn’t wait to see how she slotted into the overall plot.
A Tuscan Memory is a lovely book and it is well researched, but for me it was just too slow to start with and the plot strayed at times and it became slightly disjointed. As I have said the second half is much better than the first and I felt it redeemed itself somewhat and made up for the slow beginning and therefore my opinions of the characters and the story as a whole altered. I will be interested to see in what direction Angela Petch will journey to next in relation to where her next book will be set and in what time period but in the meantime if you want a quick, easy historical fiction read then A Tuscan Memory will provide you with just that.