About the Book:
Set in Mussolini’s Italy amid great upheaval, this is the story of one woman’s determination to find her place in a world that men are threatening to tear apart. Another heart-rending novel inspired by a true story from Australia’s bestselling author of The Girl from Munich.
Calabria, Italy, 1936
In a remote farming village nestled in the mountains that descend into the sparkling Ionian Sea, young and spirited Giulia Tallariti longs for something more. While she loves her home and her lively family, she would much rather follow in her nonna’s footsteps and pursue her dream of becoming a healer.
But as Mussolini’s focus shifts to the war in Europe, civil unrest looms. Whispers of war are at every corner and her beloved village, once safe from the fascist agenda of the North, is now in very real danger.
Caught between her desire to forge her own path and her duty to her family, Giulia must draw on the passion in her heart and the strength of her conviction.
Can she find a way to fulfill her dreams or will the echoes of war drown out her voice?
Published by Simon & Schuster
Released 29th September 2021
Set in Calabria (the tip of Southern Italy) and spanning from the mid-1930s through to the early 1950s, Echoes of War is an immense novel, a tribute to Italians and their cultural heritage, their bravery, and their determination to survive. Inspired by the author’s own family history, it tells the story of Guilia, an ambitious young woman determined to follow in the footsteps of her nonna and become a traditional healer. Guilia is the second youngest in a family of five and through her narration we come to know her entire family and its extended members as well as their neighbours and friends. Tania Blanchard writes in an effortlessly expansive way, weaving history, both social and political, with cultural traditions into her narrative and peopling it with characters that you can’t help but come to feel highly invested in. I am particularly interested in Italy’s experiences during and after WWII, so this novel was highly anticipated for me and it certainly exceeded my expectations.
Italy has such a complex history, particularly throughout the years of WWII where Fascism was overthrown partway through the war, with the resignation of Mussolini leading to a switching of sides, a distancing from Nazism in favour of the freedom that the Allies were fighting for. There was significant civil unrest throughout Italy preceding the war and continuing throughout, and Blanchard gives a good overview of the volatile political climate and the resultant social unrest, not just throughout Southern Italy and Sicily, but throughout Northern Italy as well. I appreciated the depth of her research and the precision with which she wove all these details into her narrative. She really is a terrific writer of historical fiction and knows exactly how to strike that perfect balance between telling a good story and sharing the history of a place and its people.
I enjoyed the family dynamics within this story, they were realistic and absorbing. Guilia was, for the most part, a great narrator. She frustrated me occasionally when she was a little too headstrong to see her way through, at times she seemed to be stubborn for the mere sake of it, but for the most part, I liked her a lot, admired her tenacity and championed her story. The practising of traditional medicine and herbalism as portrayed within this story was quite fascinating and when told within the context of the region, you got to see just how important traditional healers were to a village in Italy during and prior to this era. This is a novel of strong women, determined and brave, dedicated to their family and each other. It broke my heart many times, the struggles they faced, not just because of the war, but through natural disaster as well, given the volatility of Southern Italy topographically. It was very much a case of how much more can these poor people go through. It made me appreciate anew the bravery of those who lived through the world wars, and I gained a greater understanding about the motivations to migrate after the war for a better and more prosperous life. For those who were unable to afford to migrate or had no sponsorship to do so, they faced widespread hardships and poverty as their nation changed and their livelihoods were lost and redefined.
Echoes of War is top shelf historical fiction, an absorbing family saga that is well written, striking a perfect balance between history, dramatic storytelling, and memorable characters. Highly recommended.
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.