Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Ciao Bella"

Gina Buonaguro was born in New Jersey and now resides in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Janice Kirk was born and lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The authors of The Sidewalk Artist, they are now working on their third novel together.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, Ciao Bella, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Ciao Bella is actually quite representative of the novel as a whole. For Graziella, the daughter of a Canadian botanist, the quiet, cultured life she lived in Venice with her musician husband, Ugo, was everything she could’ve desired. But when Italy allied with Nazi Germany in 1940, her world changed forever. Ugo, trading his violin for a gun, joined the Resistance, while Graziella, now an “enemy alien,” was forced to seek refuge at his family’s farm in the nearby Euganean Hills. Having inherited her father’s gift for plants, she became both midwife and nursemaid to Ugo’s family. Her time in the Hills was not a happy one, not only because of the fear of bombing raids and Nazi reprisals but also because Ugo’s father and sisters were openly hostile to his choice of a foreigner as a wife. “Just until the war is over,” Ugo had promised, but it has been months since the Germans retreated, and no one has seen him since.

Just as she despairs she will be trapped forever with Ugo’s ungrateful family, along comes Frank, an American soldier waiting for the ship that will take him back home. As the summer unfolds, Frank begins to fill the void Ugo has left behind and Graziella slowly starts to embraces this unexpected chance at being happy again.

Booklist says this about the novel: “A compelling combination of romance, adventure, and serious thought, this slim novel is sure to appeal to many audiences.” And page 69 itself is exactly all that. It shows the developing attraction between Graziella and Frank but also Graziella’s conflict: How can she be attracted to Frank when she so longs for her husband’s return? It also shows Frank’s own complicated feelings as he decides just what and how much to tell Graziella about his time during the war – a struggle that intensifies as the novel progresses. As Frank relates his horrific story, the reader learns these are experiences not easily forgotten but that will continue to haunt both Graziella and Frank and influence everything they do from now on. For overall, Ciao Bella explores the possibilities of love and redemption in the wake of war, showing that some of the hardest decisions come only after the fighting has stopped.

Here is page 69:

“I’m sorry. You don’t have to tell me. It’s none of my business.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said, his eyes following her retreating hand as if he already missed it there on his own. She thought about putting it back, maybe even holding it, but he began again, and she felt the opportunity had passed. “We were up in the mountains near Cassino not long before the Allies broke through the line and marched to Rome.” He spoke softly, and she had to strain to hear his voice over the pounding rain. “All that lay between my regiment and the Germans was this little river. We’d spent a couple of days firing back and forth whenever we saw anything moving. It was spring, but it was still damned cold. Sorry, really cold. Anyway, we weren’t accomplishing much as we waited for this brigade of Brits to catch up with us. Then the real push was to happen. Cross the river and drive the Germans back. Keep pushing them north.”

More thunder rattled the house, and they listened for sounds from Giovanni’s room, but only his snoring was audible.

Frank took a sip of wine before resuming, the herbs in front of him forgotten. “Nobody was looking forward to this. In the hills, we were pretty safe, but once we were in that river, we were just sitting ducks. That’s why we did it at night. They had this plan. Send forty or so guys to sneak across the river and take the Germans out in their sleeping bags. It sounded like a stupid idea even then. They should have sent in planes.

“I wasn’t long in that river before I knew I was right. My feet sunk in the mud, and the water came up to my chest. I could barely move. By the time we reached the middle, the water was up around our necks. It felt like ice. Somewhere close to me a soldier began to cry, saying he couldn’t swim. Everyone was going shhh! shhh! and it all sounded louder than bombs dropping….”
Learn more about the book and authors on their website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue