by Margaret Wurtele
Giovanna Bellini is just seventeen years old when her hometown of Lucca, Italy is occupied by German soldiers, putting a halt to all diversions and semblances of a normal life for a young lady just out of school. To make good use of her time, and offer services to the war effort, Giovanna agrees to help teach young children with the nuns of her former school. To their horror, the Germans demand use of the school, except a small space in the back to continue their classes. Giovanna, however, soon develops an attraction to one of the officers.
Meanwhile, Giorgio Bellini, Giovanna’s brother, joins the partisans—unofficial soldiers aligned with the Allied forces—despite their father’s ties to Mussolini and the Fascist regime. When the supplies dwindle, he decides to secretly enlist Giovanna’s help in getting his troops food, medicine and other necessities. Eventually, she is prevailed upon to hide an injured comrade, Mario Rava, who is not only a partisan, but also of Jewish descent. While she learns of the causes of the war and its injustices, she struggles with her feelings for the two men—one on each side of the war, and finds herself in the process.
Chronicling the atrocities of World War II, and displaying a panoramic view of occupied Italy, The Golden Hour is a beautifully told story of the relationships between family, friends and lovers during the hardships of war. It is an easy read for those not well versed in WWII history (such as myself), especially that focusing on Italy. So impressed was I that it went directly onto my list of possible books to present to my book club! If you’re a fan of WWII fiction, this is definitely a book you should read, but I also believe it to be a great cross-genre novel.