I read an extraordinary book recently that I think many people overlooked when it was first released. The author’s previous novels were science fiction, so some may have expected this one to be in that genre as well. However, A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell, which was released in 2005, is a fictional treatment of the bravery and generosity of spirit of the Italians in North Italy near the end of World War II. It seems, as one reviewer noted, almost as if half of the population hid the other half—the Jews—from the Nazis. The author insists that her narrative actually underplays this hospitality, based on her research and her interviews of those who survived. The result is a fast-paced, action-packed book.
The characters are richly drawn, particularly Renzo Leoni, who operates in the book under several aliases and is mistaken by the Nazis as one of their own. Claudette Blum and her father are Jews who also figure prominently in the narrative, and it is in fact Claudette’s life after the war that provides the final scenes of the book.
As in any book about World War II and the Nazis, there are plot lines that will break your heart, but the richness of the writing and, yes, the thread of grace, make this wonderful book well worth your time.