If someone asked me to describe this books I would say it is poetic, passionate, and fast paced It went by way to quickly for my liking, I wanted it to never end In this historical fiction novel you follow the lives of Freddie, Isabella, and Oskar against the backdrop of in Italy during World War II What I enjoyed the most is that their personalities are distinct, they do not feel generic at all Isabella is a strong individual, she puts herself in so much danger to help others as well as project art I went to art school for a few years and for me personally art is culture It is a way to show how a group or individual feels, but also shows what they see around them Art is very important Freddie is a pilot during the war His does gruesome work and is faced with danger often During this time he bonds very well with his crew mates and you experience his point of view of the bombing, which I found interesting to read Oskar, whose story is not really described in the description so I wont say much, but he is also a very distinct character who has a very important non passive role in this book I felt that this novel described a lot of the various roles citizens could have taken during the war I could easily go on about this, I honestly REALLY enjoyed this It has all of the elements of a historical fiction that I look for It takes place during an active time in history, the characters are involved in the events in different ways, and I genuinely connected with these characters For me a bonus of this book was that it took place outside of Germany, France, and Britain For me personally I had not read a WWII historical fiction that took place in Italy so it caught my eye even than a historical fiction normally would Over all I would say if you enjoy historical fiction, art, WWII related books, and you enjoy reading about characters that feel like real people you need to pick this up I give this book an easy 5 stars They first met in Florence at an art class given by a renowned painter known as the maestro Isabelle, Freddy and Oskar became friends though only Isabelle shows any promise as a painter Their lives would become entwined in different ways through the war, as Freddy would return to England and pi ot a Lancaster for the RAF Isabelle would remain in Florence, her home, and Oskar as a Jew would take a different path A dangerous time for all as the Nazis move into Italy.I started reading this and my first thought through ten or so segments was that this was a nice story but one in which I didn t feel much emotion As the author continued to set the scene, added additional characters, not only did the writing get stronger but I became invested in the lives of these people, the dangers they were encountering, wherever they were located The descriptive touches we re top notch, allowing the reader to completely visualize the setting and the scenarios What made this different from other I have read about WWII, is not only the gradually unveilng of the full dangers on our characters but how extremely dangerous was every decision they made There were so many different factions working in the same place, one never knew who to trust, who was as they appeared to be, who was on what side The author also was very fair because he showed the good with the bad, a very balanced viewpoint showing even among Nazis there were some who helped in small ways when they could, towns people who should have pulled together but instead acted n their own self interest Can t imagine living where every move you made was analyzed, when acting in a certain way could mean your life, where you had to watch everything you did, who you talked to, and what you said Mindboggling.Some of this was hard to read, the concentration camps, the torture, but the author tried to follow the darkness with some light A fairly long book, but the short chapters, narrated by each of the three leading characters, read like a much shorter book,the pages literally flew by A first book, a talented author and characters in which I became invested What a journey this was, but one I was glad to have taken Reading this with Angela and Esil was even special.ARC from Netgalley. In Freddie English , Isabella Italian And Oskar A German Jew Become Friends At An Art School In Florence Where They Are Taught By The Dictatorial But Magus Like Maestro And His Sinister Fascist Assistant Fosco When War Arrives Freddie Returns To England To Become The Pilot Of A Lancaster Bomber Oskar, Now A Dancer, Has Moved To Paris Where He Escapes The Roundup Of Jews And Arrives In Italy With His Young Daughter Esme Isabella Remains In Florence Where She Continues To Paint Until She Is Called Upon By Maestro To Forge An Old Master Painting, Apparently At The Behest Of The F Hrer Himself, And As A Result Is Seen As A Nazi Collaborator By Her Neighbours The Murderous Skies Over Germany And A War Torn Italy In The Grip Of Nazi Occupation Provide The Setting For This Novel About The Love Of A Separated Husband And His Wife And The Love Of A Man For His Young Daughter Freddie And Oskar Both Hope To Find Their Way Back To Florence But Florence S Heritage Of Preserving The Identity And Continuity Of The Past Has Never Before Been So Under Threat I m not sure why, but I didn t always think of Italy when I thought about WWII It wasn t until several years ago while on a vacation in Italy that I realized the impact We visited Monte Cassino and graves of US soldiers there But I have to admit that I didn t know very much about Florence and the war So this book brought yet another facet of the war with its beautifully written depiction of the effect of the war on Florence and a group of characters living there I really liked the descriptive writing from the beginning which just got better and better It took me a while to connect with the characters, but once I did I couldn t help but care about them and be concerned for their fate Through alternating narratives we come to know Isabella, an artist, her English pilot husband Freddie, Oskar, the German Jew, who d rather dance than paint and eventually his 6 year old daughter Esme There is an expanded cast of characters who interact with these main characters as the story progresses The alternating narratives work so well here as we see the harrowing impact of the war on Isabella, drawn into a scheme to forge old paintings to save the originals from the Nazis, on Freddie as he engages in his bombing missions, and on Oskar and Esme as they seek refuge and safety This is a story of war but it also is a story of relationships husband and wife, teacher and student It also wonderfully depicts the friendships that are fostered in military But my favorite is the beautiful father and daughter relationship of Oskar and Esme It s heartbreaking and touching as they maneuver through the danger The writing is very good and the story is compelling It s hard to believe this is a debut novel It s not easy to read at times, though There are arrests and torture and death, glimpses into concentration camps which provide such a realistic picture of the time, and the day to day experiences of people trying to survive the war While this is fiction, I couldn t help but think that these characters might just reflect the courage and the resilience of some real people in Florence during the war I definitely recommend it to readers of historical fiction Once again I thank Goodreads friends Esil and Diane for what has become our monthly buddy read.I received an advanced copy of this book from Chenye Walk through NetGalley. The Way Back to Florence started off as nothing special, but then it really grew on me The story takes place during WWII and mostly in Florence Italy was a complicated place during WWII, and this novel takes on those complications and their consequent human emotions The initial focus is on Isabella and Freddy, a young married couple Isabella is Italian and an aspiring artist Freddy is British and Oxford educated The war soon separates them Isabella stays in Florence, while Freddy becomes a fighter pilot for England The story gradually adds some additional perspectives characters connected to Isabella and Freddy in one way or another two of my favourites being displaced Jewish father and daughter Oscar and Esme Initially, while the writing was good, the story felt a bit aimless and disorganized But as it progressed, the author really managed to pull me in This is not a romantic depiction of WWII Nor is it a romance The author depicts ordinary flawed people trying to survive, in a world taken over by brutal thugs It s often not possible to know who to trust, neighbours turn each other in, and people surprise themselves with acts of courage and acts of betrayal There are some graphically harrowing scenes, but mostly what s depicted is the mix of fear, uncertainty and courage that comes out in people in these dark times The Way Back to Florence falls short of 5 stars because it starts off awkwardly and because there are a few loose ends that are left unexplained or incomplete But this definitely falls into my pile of worthy WWII fiction, and I do tend to be fussy about historical fiction so it s not a big pile Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy Thanks to GR friend Katie for being so enthusiastic about this book as I doubt it would have caught my attention And thanks again to Angela and Diane for another excellent buddy read. Once I got into this novel, which didn t take long, I simply couldn t put it down and I have to confess the ending brought tears to my eyes I d never heard of it until a friend here on Goodreads gave it a gushing review and my interest was piqued The scope of this novel is hugely impressive We are taken on bombing raids to Berlin, into the world of art theft in Florence, to partisan battles in the hills of Tuscany, to the offices of the secret police in Florence, to Italian internment camps and to the Nazi death camps And yet for all the pervasive horror of war this is essentially an uplifting novel written with sustained imaginative vitality about how people touch each other and how humanity prevails We see WW2 through three perspectives these are three friends who met at art college in Florence before the war Freddie becomes the pilot of a Lancaster bomber, Isabella, his Italian wife, is a painter in Florence and Oskar, a German Jew, is trying to avoid the Gestapo in Italy All three narratives are utterly compelling in their different ways Isabella is dragged into the world of art forgery and the fascist partisan conflict Oskar and his young daughter are hunted by the Nazis and have to depend on the kindness of strangers and are constantly in fear of their treachery huge rewards were offered for information leading to the arrest of Jews And Freddie is just trying to stay alive the account of life in Bomber Command is a brilliant feat of imagination a succession of thrilling set pieces in which you feel you re up there in the plane The control of the suspense throughout is done with great skill You genuinely worry for the safety of the characters Oskar s efforts to keep his daughter safe is a very moving account of the love of a father for his daughter, just as Freddie and Isabella s story is a moving depiction of the love between a separated husband and wife It s also a brilliant portrait of Italy and in particular Florence itself I didn t want it to end Fully recommended Along with All the Light We Cannot See my favourite read of 2015. 4.5 stars Often I wonder how I would have behaved during World War Two, especially in Nazi occupied countries I imagine we all do Would I have been brave enough to help people in need, to actively resist the Nazis Or would I have just sat back and looked after my own skin and that of my family In large part I suspect circumstances decide these things and that s what happens to the two Italian women in this novel, neither of whom are uncommonly brave or politically motivated but both of whom are faced with difficult choices by circumstances Isabella is a painter, married to an English husband who is the pilot of a Lancaster bomber and Melissa is her model Melissa s relationship with her boyfriend Francesco has been sabotaged by his snobbish Jewish mother Melissa is working class and not good enough When the Nazis arrive and the Jews lose all social standing Francesco s mother is compelled to call upon Melissa for help For a while I was liking this but not quite loving it The sections set in Florence I did love but the sections dwelling on the aircrew of a bomber less so However there came a moment when I began to greatly warm to Freddie and his crew and then the novel really began to pick up pace and intensity I was especially moved by the plight of the Jewish Oskar and his little girl There s a particularly memorable scene when they are on a cattle train heading to Auschwitz It s one of those novels that gets and gripping as it progresses, a novel that envelops you in its atmosphere and leaves you feeling sad when you ve finished It s an ambitious novel and like a lot of ambitious novels it has its shortcomings maybe there were a couple too many of the aircraft chapters for example Against that there were many memorable images and scenes, some fabulous twists and the characters were alive and vivid and easy to get attached to Thanks to Netgalley. A truly satisfying read about the experience of World War 2 in Italy from the perspective of an artist, Isabella, and her English husband, Freddie, who met her as an art student in Florence and now captains a bomber crew with the RAF Oskar is another key character, a close friend from their student days who is a German Jew now returning to Italy with his young daughter Esme to escape the Holocaust The strength of these characters bonds of love sustains them in the face of the chaos and destructive forces of the war In this debut novel, Haybittle does well not to overdo the romance element, nor to overwhelm the reader too much with the horrors or heroics of combat and survival He makes art and aesthetic sensibility serve as a wonderful frame for the arc of the story, with Florence itself, a world treasure of Renaissance art and architecture, seeming to stand for all that is noble about civilization Florence exists to educate our memory.Isabella continues to work as a painter amidst the bombing and deprivations It s her only medium for being, the act of painting like channelling clairvoyance down into her fingers Like the rest of the community she must negotiate the schemes and treachery of fascist authorities and anti fascist resistance forces struggling for control of the community Since the fall of Mussolini and the Allied landing in southern Italy, the Nazis have moved into the region While they force Italy to submit their Jews for the Final Solution, they keep their hands clean of Geneva Convention violations by letting the local thugs in charge continue to carry out brutal imprisonment and torture of citizens Isabelle gets involved in trying to protect masterpiece paintings from getting stolen by the Nazis and in helping Jews in hiding, and the trouble she gets in leads her to rely on the protection of a slimy aristocratic SS officer Her bravery and the tense plotting made for a page turning reading experience.I especially loved the alternating sections with Freddie s activities Despite significant readings in this area, it remains all but impossible to imagine how these guys kept doing their job of bombing missions despite the horrific losses from anti aircraft and fighter plane attacks and from equipment failure Haybittle does a great job making it real and plausible The critical role of the sense of teamwork among the crew, the importance of humor and superstition, and various modes for relief of their stress between missions That many of their bombs were killing civilians is an awful load we expected the airmen to bear Freddie s bond with his crewmen makes for heartbreak when some are lost and mentally demolished His esthetic vision leads him to see beauty amid the terrors, as when the colors of the bombs and tracers appear like the chaos in a Turner painting Sometimes near the target sight in Germany or Italy, it feels like he is entering a cathedral On one run, the situation is imbued with a spiritual significance A searchlight catches the plane for an instant The cockpit is awash with searing bluish brightness As if a revelation is about to take place As if an angel is about to appear He can t see the instrument panel The finger of light has the aircraft in its grip Holding her suspended above the city As if she is perched on a tightrope Visible to the whole of Berlin down below.I can t really share whether the author is going to let his characters survive or have them succumb to heroically fulfill the tragedy that is war I can share a bit of uplift that Oskar experiences when he is among the resistance fighters in the woods near Florence The overwhelming feeling there by the stream was one of virtue People were pared down to what was generous, selfless and clean in their natures When we were staying in a church by the sea the priest spoke about war bringing forth miracles About war not just as horror and deprivation But of it creating moments, unrepeatable in peacetime, when it spurs an intimacy of fellowship that makes you feel proud of the human race War, grindingly, shifts one s perspective from I to we.For me the pleasure meter on this book was somewhere between the emotionally entertaining The Nightingale and the sublime artistry of All the Light We Cannot See It did feel realistic than either and covered a broader canvas than Russell s tale of the plight of Italian refugees and partisans in A Thread of Grace The wrenching divisions among families and communities over loyalty to the fascist cause brings back powerful memories of the Bertolucci masterpiece of a movie Il Conformisto This book had the added boon of putting the places and art of Florence into the story I have fond memories of the city from three weeks spent there when I was 16 I didn t realize how much bombing damage it sustained or how close it came to widespread destruction. Henry James once said novels deal with the palpable present intimate and the two novels I ve been reading this month, this and The Night Watch, are both massively successful at enthralling through an intimacy of observation Both novels are set during WW2, both are superbly researched, soundly constructed, character driven and intelligently eloquent without indulging in any literary sleights of hand or innovative technique In short, both are excellent examples of riveting straightforward storytelling.The Way Back to Florence is an eloquently written and moving WW2 novel set predominantly in Florence, Italy It focuses on three characters all of whom are forced by the dictates of fascism to forge identity in different ways One of the novel s themes is the struggle to preserve identity as bombs drop and the outward world changes its shape it becomes increasingly difficult for the characters to keep their inner shape Memory, of course, is the medium of identity and the precarious nature of memory plays a big part in the narrative Florence exists to educate our memory, says one character War, in this novel, constantly threatens to erase memory Isabella, a painter and the novel s central female character, observes while looking at bomb damage The ripped open houses with their exposed arrangements, their laid bare secrets, are like portraits Each one has its own individual facial expression More identity is on display in the midst of the destruction More intimacy It makes her realise how vulnerable these achievements are Identity Intimacy Her husband Freddie s sense of self is represented by a portrait of him painted by Isabella and the fate of this painting will mirror in many ways the fate of Freddie himself Paintings, an emblem of the transcendent power of memory, are often lost or defaced or forged in this novel Freddie and Isabella meet at a Florentine art school where they study together They forge their romantic bond during breaks when they go and sit in the nearby English cemetery not the most auspicious place to put down roots By 1943 they have become memories to each other She steps out of the silver dress and takes a simple black dress from the wardrobe where some of Freddie s clothes still hang She tries to remember if Freddie began buttoning his shirt from the top or the bottom She tries to remember him tying his shoelaces The images she sees of her husband nowadays are washed out and ghostly as if consisting predominantly of reflected light It s also a novel about displacement and the concurrent yearning for homecoming War, while ostensibly defending the concept of home, also of course threatens its very existence The measure of war s ability to remove all the securities of home is a constant feature of this novel, most chillingly when the narrative takes us to the death camps of Mauthausen and Auschwitz It begins with Freddie Hartson, a Lancaster bomber pilot who has a shaming secret and is told in the briefing hut that tonight s mission is Florence Florence, we learn, is where his wife, a painter, lives The target is not far from the art school where he met Isabella and where his former teacher still works He has to drop bombs on his own home Before every operation he has to write a farewell letter to Isabella, his wife, in case he doesn t return When he thinks of his wife now it is like walking barefoot down steps to the sea at night A secretive act A moment of wonder he treats with caution as though shielding a buffeted flame Life at the station and especially on board the aircraft is vividly evoked, especially the bomb run itself with all its perils and mayhem The radar directed flak intensifies Like swarms of angry red and yellow eyed snakes slithering up invisible ropes in the sky The sky around them is a glittering maelstrom of light The stars pale into insignificance Down below the city is lit up in sections as shockwaves fan out in kaleidoscopic bursts Shell smoke rising up from the ground On his right a burst of flame and a thick guttering of black smoke lit up by the geometry of the searchlights The novel provides a moving insight into what those men went through the dangers of ops over Germany, the fears, but also the moving nature of the fellowship shared by these airmen There are some memorable scenes too, like when, in thick fog, they nearly land the aircraft on a Luftwaffe base in France, thinking England is below and when they have to crash land in the North Sea Isabella is painting when the bombs fall Later, an SS officer takes a fancy to Isabella at a party and confides that it is his job at present to find two famous paintings that Mussolini has promised to Hitler but that have gone missing Isabella s teacher will later persuade her to forge one of these paintings, Pontormo s portrait of St Anthony, patron saint of lost things Meanwhile Isabella has had a brief guilty fling with a member of the resistance and has to rely on the SS officer when she is arrested by the sinister Fascist secret police The tension mounts as she plays a dangerous game The third central character is Oskar, a friend of Freddie and Isabella s from their pre war time together at a Florence art school He s a German Jew whose sense of self is bound up in protecting his young daughter When his wife is caught in the Paris round up of Jews Oskar manages to escape with his daughter He makes his way south to Italy but his arrival coincides with the Nazi occupation of Italy Needless to say, the Gestapo is never far away The author does a great job of making you fearful for Oskar and Esme Florence, the city, is the novel s other major character We get a beautifully visual portrait of the city where I live The sky is a virginal blue translucence as though bereft for a fleeting moment of the effects of both light and darkness A crimson streak smoulders over the outline of the hills, a simmering bloodline There is a solitary canoe on the water A cold white sheen rises from the water She holds her breath As if to stop any time from passing, to stop the future happening The peacefulness of the morning is almost heartbreaking in its fragility There s also a lot of warmth and wit in this novel, momentum and vitality It s written with lots of heart and an imagination at high tide And we encounter both the kindness and cruelty of strangers in the atmosphere of fear and mistrust that exists in an occupied country One scene particularly when a woman makes her young son cajole a little Jewish girl into church to see if she crosses herself The woman has her eye on the reward offered for information on fugitive Jews Architecturally it plays safe Emphasis is on storytelling following a straightforward flight plan, rather like the flight plans of the Lancasters themselves when they set off on an operation It s not a novel of versatile innovation or structural sleights of hand It abides by its limits and as a result is a thoroughly engaging novel pulsing with moments of high tension, poignant sadness and life affirming beauty which also at times illuminates some of the shrouded areas of human motive. Update 1.99 Kindle sale right now This book is WONDERFUL Terrific WWII Historical fiction book whom I first learned from Violet Artlovewar Florence, a renaissance city in the heart of Tuscany is one of the most popular travel cities in Italy I haven t had the pleasure Yet On the front cover of the paperback book The Way Back to Florence , by Glenn Haybittle is a quote by author Alex Preston of In Love and War ,which captures the beauty and essence A quite brilliant novel of art, love, and war told with extraordinary delicacy and poise As a reader, reading this review if you do not want to read any of my chatter.Stop reading Between the BLURP and Alan Preston s quote It s all you need to know This is MY FAVORITE BOOK I ve read all year And by far, one of the best WW 2 Historical Fiction books I ve read , period Mussolini, leader of the National Fascist Party, was ruling the country as Prime Minister from1922 to 1943 He ruled constitutionally until 1925, when he dropped all pretense of democracy and set up a legal dictatorship This story begins in 1943, with the invasion of Italy The allied bombers target Florence The air raid siren begins shrieking The grumbling noise gains in intensity Window frames rattle Never have the planes been this low in the sky before During some of the battles, a loud siren would wail , and everything stopped The locals went out to retrieve the dead and wounded children and women People would sit and talk with one another drink coffee Exchange cigarettes as if nothing was wrong then, the siren would blast again New explosions would make locals scream Each one the most primordial and sundering noise to endure Solemn faces on children in the streets, grimy, injured, sick, hungry Buildings gone Mountains of smoking rubble, rotting garbage, the stink of plaster, feet black and swollen A WAR Murderous WAR, Nazi occupation can t just provide the setting for a story told no matter how heartfelt, complex, and engaging it is to read about each of the character WAR is WAR many victims died WAR is never simply a setting for me, knowing people died.At the same time, The story is fascinating, interesting, and intimate, with characters that make your heart melt Author, Glenn Haybittle sketches honest portraits of everyday people so much so It s easy to place yourself in the story with them in the art studio, in the sky with the pilots, on a beach with friends I took many detours while reading this novel I d read about a location in the story and before you knew it I was reading about places I wanted to visit in Florenceand history about the war in Italy Piazza della Signoria, Loggia die Lanzi, The American Cemetary south of Florence, they Ponte Vecchio bridge museums, Churches, etc I even took note of a movie I d like to rent Tea With Mussolini The story is compelling and beautiful Isabelle the Italian artist Freddie, her husband, English, and a pilot of the Lancaster bomber.Oskar, a German Jew a dancer, and father who does whatever is needed to protect his child Esme During this time period highlighted through the character Isabelle , women were notusually respected as talented and capable artist Isabelle was a strong character..and moved forward with her success but even she, desired approval for her work by her long time studio teacher Maestro I couldn t help but think of the artist, Margaret Keane a popular famous artist in the 60 s and 70 s Margaret continues to paint, and lives here in the Bay Area near me today but she, too, was another female artist that for whatever reason, suppressed her voice and allowed her husband to take credit for her work I can t imagine anyone not losing themselves in this novel swimming in it and coming away fully satisfied and uplifted Last Thank You Violet, for the gift of this book I had no idea how much I d get swept away.
London Lerici Florence Represented by Annabel Merullo at PFD The Way Back to Florence is my first novel.
- 490 pages
- The Way Back to Florence
- Glenn Haybittle
- 28 July 2017 Glenn Haybittle