Bookworms are an odd breed. We love reading. We love getting lost in a book. We love reading a story even when every page, every paragraph make our hearts hurt. I felt anxious each time I returned to this story. My nerves… chest tight… stomach churning… oh my goodness. Several times I thought I should just stop reading the book, I didn’t think my heart could take it anymore. But then I’d want to know what happened. I couldn’t just leave the story hanging and not know. I decided to take a break, read something lighter. I contemplated skipping to the end of the book, see how it ended and if my heart would be able to handle the pages in between.
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.
Available on Amazon and through Kindle Unlimited with (the most amazing) audio included.
There were times while reading this story I felt so angry with the world, with history, with our present, with our world’s refusal to learn from the suffering of the past.
Amy Harmon’s writing style is intoxicating. I felt fully immersed in the world she created as her characters are sympathetic and so well-developed. The dialogues are at times intense, at others sardonic, and a few times humorous. They always seem real, however. The descriptions of Rome and Florence are vivid and worked into the tale in such a way that those places are like characters in their own right. Each word is chosen to deliver the maximum effect and, at times, I felt totally consumed by this story.
Eventually, by about 75%, I had to skip to the last chapter to see. I’ve never done that before, when reading a book, but I felt physically sick, the anxiety of not knowing. If this were a fantasy story, maybe, it would have been different. But this story, even with its fictional characters, is based very much on true events and very real cruelty and suffering. My mind constantly wandered to the flesh and blood people who lived through these horrendous times and atrocities, especially as my reading coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day. That’s why I felt to cry every time I fell into the pages of this story.
From the blurb, you must expect there is a strong religious component to the story, both in terms of Catholic and Jewish teachings and traditions. But the author is not preaching at the reader. Religion is part of the story, it’s part of the characters, it is what motivates them and it is what challenges and what costs them. I was raised in a Church of England home but all of my pre-university education was through Catholic schools and I married into a practicing Catholic family. My children are Catholic and we try our best to raise them accordingly… we are far from perfect at this! My knowledge and understanding of the religion is possibly greater than many who were born into it, thanks to wonderful, patient teachers who were most-often open to discussions and questioning. I, personally, did not find anything offensive in the portrayal of religion in this story, but some might.
In the comfort of peacetime and the tranquility of my home it would be easy to judge, to condemn the actions taken and choices made by Eva and Angelo. I may not agree with their choices but I cannot condemn them nor hate the book for its portrayal of two people caught in circumstances I will hopefully never understand.
One thing, of many, that stands out in this novel, and perhaps makes it all the more poignant, is the level of emotional upheaval each and every one of these characters go through. Eva and especially Angelo are described in great detail. Their trials and torments, anguish, hope, love… every emotion is described with such heartrending detail, it’s almost impossible not to feel some of it with them.
Eva is not an easy to love heroine. She’s spoilt, she’s selfish and she seems to be demanding for herself what she should not have. In any other setting she would probably not be a particularly likable character. However, when you put her in the context of how much she’s lost, how much is stripped away from her, how much she is willing to give of herself for others, how courageous she is determined to be, it’s easier to sympathise with her. Ultimately, she leaves the choice in Angelo’s hands, as it should be.
*Possible Spoiler* Some might say the story is too tidy towards the end. I say, there was so much suffering and pain and brutality that it was deserved. The tiniest flicker of hope will shine against the darkness of despair. Sometimes, that flame is able to grow and conquer the darkness. Isn’t that the hope that fuelled so many through the darkest of times?
Obviously, I loved this story. It had a tremendous impact on me and has not been far from my thoughts even after I read the last page. I was also incentivised to read more about the history of Rome during German occupation and to research some elements of Catholic teachings. I will not be forgetting From Sand and Ash any time soon, and I suspect it will feature in my top reads for 2020.
Narrator Cassandra Campbell delivers an amazing performance throughout the telling of this story. The tale itself is evocative and made all the more haunting by listening to her voice. Her accents are wonderful, and certainly useful for teaching the correct Italian pronunciation for several place and people names. Cassandra uses a wide array of tones, inflections and voice pitches. Eva’s and Angleo’s voices are so distinct from each other, yet so are the voices for their younger selves. There are German and Irish accents also used and American ones, as well. I cannot praise this narrator enough and I 200% recommend getting the audio version to accompany this book if you can. The audio production itself is clean, clear and in sync with the text.
I give this book 5/5 intenso espresso shots.