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SAVING MADONNA

In “SAVING MADONNA,” set against the backdrop of World War II, the small Italian town of Sant’ Angelo is caught in the grip of Nazi occupation and fascist control. The locals, including Luca Rossi and Elena Marchetti, face the hardships of shortages and the constant threat of conscription. As an aspiring art curator, Elena finds an opportunity to make a difference by helping to hide precious Italian art from Nazi looting. The novel expertly recreates the tense political climate and explores themes of resistance and the preservation of cultural identity. While the prose occasionally leans towards cliches and sentimentality, the captivating story and well-drawn characters make this an intriguing read.

SAVING MADONNA

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Background

Setting in Sant’ Angelo

Sant’ Angelo, a rural town in northern Italy, provides the backdrop for this captivating story. The town, nestled in the Italian countryside, becomes the center of action during the tumultuous period of World War II. Its picturesque charm is overshadowed by the Nazi occupation and the ensuing violence and fear that grip the region.

Impact of World War II

The onset of World War II has a profound impact on Sant’ Angelo and its inhabitants. The Nazis swiftly establish control over the region, looting the local farmers’ supplies and causing shortages. Fascist groups also emerge, roaming the countryside and forcibly conscripting young men into service. The once peaceful town is now plagued by violence and uncertainty.

Shortages and conscription

The Nazi plundering of supplies leads to shortages in Sant’ Angelo, further exacerbating the challenges faced by the locals. The town’s farmers, including Luca and Elena’s families, feel the squeeze as they struggle to provide for their loved ones. Additionally, young men are forcibly conscripted into service, tearing families apart and leaving behind a sense of fear and helplessness.

Partisan militias

In response to the Nazi occupation and fascist groups, partisan militias form in Sant’ Angelo and the surrounding areas. These militias aim to combat the incursions and protect their community. Luca and Elena’s brothers are among those who join the partisans, driven by their desire to defend Italy. As the militias take a stand against the oppressors, the region becomes embroiled in violence and the atmosphere is fraught with tension.

Luca and Elena’s Dilemma

Desire to contribute to defense

Both Luca and Elena share a deep-rooted desire to contribute to the defense of their country. Luca, torn between his duty to his family and his longing to make a difference, struggles to find a way to support the Italian cause. Elena, too, yearns to play her part in the fight against the Nazis but is unwilling to take up arms like her brother. Their shared aspiration fuels their determination to find a meaningful way to contribute.

Responsibilities at home

Luca finds himself burdened with the responsibility of tending to his family’s farm. As the eldest son, he is expected to shoulder the weight of the household’s needs. His family depends on him for their survival, making it challenging for Luca to leave and join the partisans. Balancing his desire to defend Italy with his responsibilities at home proves to be a difficult dilemma for him.

Elena’s aspirations as an art curator

Elena has dreams of becoming an art curator, driven by a deep appreciation for the cultural significance of art. She longs to protect Italy’s artistic heritage from the clutches of the Nazis. However, her aspirations are often overlooked and dismissed due to societal expectations that prioritize her brother’s role in the war. Elena’s passion and determination to make a difference push her to seek out opportunities that align with her aspirations.

SAVING MADONNA

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Opportunity to Make a Difference

Pasquale Rotondi and the Galleria Nazionale

Pasquale Rotondi, an individual working at the Galleria Nazionale in Urbino, presents Elena with a unique opportunity to contribute to the resistance efforts. He heads the mission to hide valuable Italian art from Nazi looting. Recognizing Elena’s knowledge and passion for art, he extends an invitation for her to join him in this vital endeavor.

Hiding Italian art from Nazi looting

With the Nazis closing in, the urgency to protect Italy’s artistic treasures grows. Elena and Pasquale are entrusted with the task of hiding the valuable art pieces from Nazi looters. Their mission not only seeks to preserve these works but also symbolizes the defiance against the oppressors. Through their efforts, they aim to safeguard Italy’s cultural identity amidst the chaos of war.

Elena’s invitation to join the effort

Elena’s invitation to join the mission to hide the art treasures is a turning point for her. It offers her the chance to employ her knowledge and passion for art in a meaningful and significant way. This invitation brings her closer to fulfilling her aspirations as an art curator and allows her to actively contribute to the defense of her country.

The Dangerous Plan

Nazi discovery grows imminent

As the Nazis draw closer, the risks associated with hiding the art treasures escalate. The fear of discovery and the consequences that would follow hang heavily over Elena and Pasquale. Their mission becomes a race against time as they endeavor to complete the risky plan before the Nazis uncover their operation.

Pasquale’s plan to ship art to the Vatican

To ensure the safety of the hidden art, Pasquale devises a daring plan to ship it to the Vatican in Rome. The Vatican’s neutrality and influence make it an ideal destination for the valuable pieces. However, the execution of this plan is rife with danger and uncertainty. Pasquale, Elena, and their collaborators must navigate the treacherous landscape of Nazi-occupied Italy to transport the art safely to its new haven.

Elena’s vital role

Elena’s expertise and knowledge of the hidden art make her an invaluable asset to the mission. Her role extends beyond mere transportation; she becomes the guardian of Italy’s artistic heritage. Her attention to detail and determination ensure the success of the plan, placing the weight of the nation’s cultural identity on her shoulders.

SAVING MADONNA

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Meticulous Recreation of War

Bristow’s rigorous research

The author, Bristow, demonstrates meticulous attention to detail through her rigorous research. Her portrayal of Italy during World War II is vivid, capturing the dire circumstances and pervasive fear that engulfed the region. The authenticity of the setting enhances the readers’ understanding of the characters’ predicament and the high stakes they face.

Unbearable predicament for Italians

Through her vivid descriptions, Bristow portrays the plight of the average Italian during the war. The unbearable circumstances, created by the Nazi occupation and fascists’ actions, weigh heavily on the characters and the community as a whole. Bristow’s portrayal allows readers to empathize with the challenges faced by the Italians and the desperate need to protect their cultural heritage amidst the chaos.

Protecting the nation’s cultural identity

Bristow delves into a crucial theme—the preservation of Italy’s cultural identity. The protection of art becomes not just a matter of surviving the war but also a battle for the soul of Italy. By emphasizing the importance of this cultural heritage, Bristow highlights the determination of characters like Elena to safeguard the essence of their nation.

Tender Relationship

Luca and Elena’s connection

Despite their different circumstances and aspirations, Luca and Elena form a deep connection. Their shared experiences and dedication to their respective causes bring them together. Their bond becomes a source of solace and strength amidst the chaos of war, providing them with a sense of understanding and support.

Suitability despite differences

Luca and Elena’s differing backgrounds and roles in their community make them an unexpected but compatible pair. Their harmonious relationship is enhanced by their ability to empathize with one another’s struggles. Despite their differences, including Luca’s agricultural background and Elena’s aspirations as an art curator, they find common ground and navigate the challenges they face together.

Emotional depth in their bond

Bristow depicts the emotional depth of Luca and Elena’s bond, capturing the complexities of their relationship amidst the backdrop of war. Their connection goes beyond mere companionship, providing them with comfort and hope in the face of adversity. Bristow’s exploration of their relationship adds depth and complexity to the narrative.

Flaws in the Prose

Indulgence in cliches

While the prose in the book is generally lucid and at times dramatically powerful, it occasionally succumbs to the use of cliches. These well-worn phrases detract from the literary appeal and originality of the story. Bristow’s reliance on cliches undermines the unique perspective of the narrative and risks making it feel formulaic.

Excessive sentimentality

The book occasionally veers into excessive sentimentality, which can overshadow the emotional impact of the story. While it is important to tap into the readers’ emotions, an overabundance of sentimentality can undermine the authenticity and believability of the characters’ experiences. Balancing emotional depth with realism is crucial in maintaining the readers’ engagement.

Manipulative conclusion

The conclusion of the book is criticized for its excessive sentimentality and manipulative tone. By veering into overly emotional territory, the ending risks alienating readers who prefer a more nuanced resolution. A more balanced approach could have preserved the emotional impact while avoiding a heavy-handed conclusion.

Lectures on the Importance of Art

Frequent mention of art’s value

Throughout the book, the author frequently emphasizes the importance of art. Characters deliver impassioned speeches on the significance of art in society, highlighting its role in inspiring individuals and reflecting the glory of God. The consistent mention of art’s value serves to reinforce its importance within the narrative.

Platitudinous sermons about inspiration

While Bristow’s intentions in emphasizing the inspirational aspect of art are commendable, the delivery sometimes falls into platitudes. Characters deliver sermons that, while true in sentiment, can come across as predictable and lacking in originality. Balancing the message of inspiration with innovative storytelling techniques would have strengthened the book’s literary appeal.

Negative impact on literary appeal

The incessant lecturing on the importance of art can negatively impact the book’s literary appeal. By relying on formulaic defenses of art’s value, the story risks becoming didactic and losing the readers’ interest. Striking a balance between the themes and the narrative would have allowed for a more engaging reading experience.

In “Saving Madonna,” readers are transported to the war-torn town of Sant’ Angelo in northern Italy, where the impact of World War II is keenly felt. Luca and Elena find themselves grappling with their desire to contribute to the defense of their country while fulfilling their responsibilities at home. When Elena is presented with an opportunity to safeguard Italy’s art treasures from Nazi looting, she joins forces with Pasquale Rotondi, and together they embark on a dangerous plan. The meticulous recreation of war and the tender relationship between Luca and Elena add depth to the narrative. However, the book is not without its flaws, with the prose occasionally indulging in cliches and sentimentality. Furthermore, an excessive focus on the importance of art can detract from the book’s literary appeal. Despite these shortcomings, “Saving Madonna” offers readers a compelling glimpse into the struggles faced by ordinary Italians during World War II and the lengths they went to protect their cultural heritage.

Source: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kate-bristow/saving-madonna/