Echoes of War

Author: Tania Blanchard
Publication Date: September 29th, 2021
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Thankyou to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the advanced digital copy in exchange for my honest opinion!

Synopsis (from official website)

In a remote farming village nestled in the mountains that descend into the sparkling Ionian Sea, young and spirited Giulia Tallariti longs for something more. While she loves her home and her lively family, she would much rather follow in her nonna’s footsteps and pursue her dream of becoming a healer.

But as Mussolini’s focus shifts to the war in Europe, civil unrest looms. Whispers of war are at every corner and her beloved village, once safe from the fascist agenda of the North, is now in very real danger.

Caught between her desire to forge her own path and her duty to her family, Giulia must draw on the passion in her heart and the strength of her conviction.

THEMES

War, coming of age, marriage

THOUGHTS

I will confess that Echoes of War took me a few weeks to read; it’s a character-driven, political, coming-of-age story that needs breathing time for the content to fully make an impact. Personally, it wasn’t a page-turner for me, but I returned to it (and that’s important, right?) Tania Blanchard was successful at building the suspense, despite the novel luxuriating in the slow pace of Giulia’s life – I was wondering what other disaster would be coming.

I was quite fascinated with the political and cultural backdrop of this novel although I am, by no means, familiar enough with Italian history to have a critical opinion on the faithfulness and accuracy of the portrayal of events from Giulia’s point of view. Now, before I started reading this novel, I had to research who Mussolini is; as it figures, he’s a contemporary of Hitler as the prime minister of Fascist Italy.

Giulia and her family live in Calabria in southern Italy, where war has mostly left it untouched until Mussolini joins up with Hitler. Then all sorts of things happen such as rising taxes, army conscription, starvation, bombings amongst other things. Within that tumultuous time, Giulia matures from a young girl to a young lady to a woman; she learns herbalism at the convent, marries a Nice Guy that her father arranged for her, utilises her skills to heal people etc. Her sister, on the other hand, marries and takes care of the farm and both of her brothers join the army.

As stated above, the story takes place entirely from Giulia’s point of view, beginning from child and ending when she’s an adult. I really like that her maturity was portrayed through the increasing complexity of her language.

Typical gender roles (female marry young; males are allowed to have careers) as a social construct are contextualised within the timeframe of this novel and plays an important role in character development. Relationships, friendships and love are explored within the various journeys of the ensemble cast. Given my previous experience with YA novels, I was slightly afraid that the author would not maintain historical accuracy and allow any of the female characters to not marry or other things, but I am glad to see that this isn’t the case! (Although this isn’t the genre to subvert historical conventions) The thing is, when ‘historical’ characters have modern and generally liberal perspectives of gender roles in a historically accurate setting– it requires a major suspension of belief because since when has an independent streak ended well for anyone in an authoritarian regime? (Not including dystopian novels!) More importantly, it is unlikely that they won’t become social pariahs and very much implausible they can still achieve their dream.

A strength of this novel is the distinctive characterisation of the ensemble cast and the respective development they all go through, even though we only know as much as Giulia knows. Her understanding of society, culture and community and people obviously broadens as she grows aware of her role, which provides a valuable and evocative insight to life in Fascist Italy. All these factors made it a slow yet illuminating read.        

SIMILAR to The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater, The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

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