Rating : 4/5
Date of Publication : 06 Jul 2017
Published by : Cheyne Walk
Laying down my kindle after finishing the last pages of The Way Back to Florence, I am astonished that I am still sitting on the couch in my living room and not in a war torn Florence celebrating the end of the war. So realistic are the words penned down by Haybittle that you will be spending the duration of the novel shoulder to shoulder with the characters witnessing the suffering, destruction and adrenalin rush first hand. It is hard for me to grasp the fact that this is the debut novel of Haybittle as his writing, characters and plot indicate a prowess that is hard for even the seasoned writers to master. The Way Back to Florence has definitely put the name of Haybittle in the list of young writers to look out for and I am positive he will be gracing the literary scene with more masterpieces.
Occurring during the time of World War 2 and its preceding period, The Way back to Florence narrates the story of Isabella, an Italian, her husband Freddie, an Englishman, and Oskar, a German Jew, who learnt in the same art school under the dictatorial Maestro and his fascist assistant Fosco Scarafuggi. With the onset of the war, Freddie moves back to England to become a fighter pilot performing routine air raids over the German occupied areas. Oskar, a dancer, escapes the roundup of the Jews in Paris and arrives in Italy with his young daughter Esme seeking shelter. Isabella remains in Italy concentrating on her painting until one day Maestro asks her to forge a masterpiece to fool the Nazis who are looting precious art pieces out of Italy. Will Isabella be caught forging the art pieces? Will Oskar and his daughter be transported to concentration camp? Will Freddie reunite with Isabella? Read to find out more…
My thoughts about this book will definitely be slightly biased as any literature about WWII is always high up in the list of my personal favorites. However, as I am stickler for language and characters, it will take more than the setting to sate my thirst. The Way Back to Florence chronicles the life of the central characters during the war time. The story progresses through various events which add momentum to the narrative and also provide plot twists. There is nothing out of the ordinary in the plot but what sets the novel apart is the way it is presented. Unlike books which idolizes heroics, this is the story of normal people who find themselves inevitably drawn into the quagmire of war fought by strangers. They all are unwilling accomplices forced to perform various acts which they condone not due to their political beliefs but due to their circumstances, religion and nationality. This is what makes the characters realistic as all of them are filled with self-doubt, skepticism and fear yet put up a brave front when faced with issues threatening their survival. One of the characters who stood out for me was Oskar and his struggle to protect his little girl Esme from the horrors of the war. Another interesting portrayal was that of Fosco Scarfuggi, a fascist, who uses the war to immortalize himself and also to settle personal vendettas.
Apart from the characters, Haybittle’s description of the landscape and attention to even the minutest detail in the story is remarkable. He brought alive the city of Florence and its suburbs, the magnificent paintings and the towering architecture right in front of our eyes. Also notable is the author’s description of the bombing routine of the Lancasters piloted by Freddie and others. Each tedious routine is transformed into something unique by Haybittle by sprinkling small dosages of humor, adventure, beauty and sometimes panic into it. The language is also extremely good and provides great source of enjoyment.
Overall, a tragic tale of love, loss and estrangement filled with memorable characters. A must-read for lovers of quality literature with excellent writing, plot and characters.
About the Author :
Glenn Haybittle is a translator and freelance writer from London who lives in Florence. e currently translates academic books for the Florence University and Italian history books for a Florentine publisher. To enjoy more of his writing visit his blog here.