Book Review: From Ashes to Song by Hilary Hauck

From Ashes to Song…

About the Book:

It’s 1911 in Italy, and Pietro’s life on the family vineyard is idyllic. He has at last captured the melody of the grape harvest on his clarinet and can’t wait to share his composition with his grandfather, but before he can play, news arrives of a deadly disease sweeping the countryside. They have no choice but to burn the vineyard to stop its spread. The loss is too much for Pietro’s grandfather, and by morning, Pietro has lost two of the most precious things in his life—his grandfather and the vineyard. All he has left is his music, but a disastrous performance at his grandfather’s funeral suggests that music, too, now seems beyond his reach.

Adrift with grief, Pietro seeks a new start in America. He goes to work in a Pennsylvania coal mine where his musician’s hands blister and his days are spent in the muffled silence of underground.

When the beautiful voice and gentle heart of a friend’s wife stirs a new song in him, Pietro at last encounters a glimmer of hope. From a respectful distance and without drawing the attention of her husband, Pietro draws on Assunta for inspiration and soon his gift for music returns. But when grief strikes in Assunta’s life, Pietro is to blame. When Prohibition steals Pietro’s last pleasure, he has to do something before Assunta’s grief consumes them both.

Inspired by true events, From Ashes to Song is a story of unconventional love, hope, and the extraordinary gifts brought to America by ordinary people in the great wave of immigration.

My Thoughts:

After an initial slow start that had me doubtful as to whether or not this was the book for me, From Ashes to Song turned out to be a richly rewarding read. It follows the lives of Pietro and Assunta, two young people who separately immigrate to America at the same time, travelling over on the same boat. Their lives become connected rapidly in the way that migrants often did on account of working together and living in the same neighbourhoods, befriending the same people and facing the same barriers and challenges to adjustment within their new country.

Grief is a recurring theme throughout this novel which is really a reflection on the times. This was before the miracle of antibiotics, a time when you could lose a child to the type of infection we treat with ease today. Work practices are also so much safer now, the type of mining disasters as detailed within this novel far less of an occurrence. And while this story was liberally peppered with tragedy, I didn’t feel it was overdone, rather, a representation of what life must have been like. For Assunta, who bears the most tragedy within this novel, her experiences were compounded by isolation, living in an entirely different continent to her family and support network. I felt that the author captured the effects this would have had on a person quite accurately.

‘The music orchestra of joy, clamouring brass of death. Every instrument he could think of, each playing its own tune – intense pain, intense joy, nothing that could exist together, a mighty cacophony, drowning him in music. His head felt on the brink of imploding.’

Woven into every part of this story is music. Pietro is a musician, but he not only plays the clarinet, he is a composer. All sound is interpreted as music to him, it’s everything. I did really love this, the way in which the music was such a part of Pietro’s soul and how the author translated this music feeling onto the page. At times, the music allowed Pietro to communicate the most important things at the best time. At others, it was a barrier he couldn’t get past. Even when he tried to live without it, he couldn’t. He was a musician through and through.

‘After she fell asleep, Pietro came down and opened his notebook to write the song that had come to him for his new child. A song barely touching on the immensity of his joy, there may not have been song enough in the whole world to capture such joy.’

From Ashes to Song is an excellent read, a beautiful tribute to the early 20th century Italian immigrant experience into America. It’s peopled with richly developed characters and a complex storyline that will appeal to fans of historical fiction family sagas.


Thanks is extended to Sunbury Press for providing me with a copy of From Ashes to Song for review.

About the Author:

Hilary Hauck is the author of From Ashes to Song, her debut novel. A writer and translator, her work has appeared in the Mindful Writers Retreat Series anthologies, the Ekphrastic Review, Balloons Lit. Journal, and the Telepoem Booth. She moved to Italy from her native UK as a young adult, where she mastered the language, learned how to cook food she can no longer eat, and won a karate championship. After meeting her husband, Hilary came to the US and drew inspiration from Pennsylvania coal history, which soon became the setting for her debut novel. Hilary is Chair of the Festival of Books in the Alleghenies, past president of Pennwriters, and a graduate of RULE. She lives on a small patch of woods in rural Pennsylvania with her husband, one of their three adult children, a cat with a passion for laundry, and an oversized German Shepherd called Hobbes—of the Calvin variety.

From Ashes to Song
Published by Milford House Press (Sunbury Press)
Released 13th April 2021

One thought on “Book Review: From Ashes to Song by Hilary Hauck

  1. Pingback: Life According to Literature Tag | Theresa Smith Writes

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