Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review of The Way Back to Florence by Glenn Haybittle (2017, Cheyne Walk)

Florence, 1937. At the studio of the self-declared Maestro, Isabella meets a young English man, Freddie, who shares her dream of becoming a great artist. Also amongst their group are Oskar, a German Jew, and Fosco who seems enamoured with fascism. Isabella and Freddie fall in love and marry, but the war soon separates them. While Isabella stays in the city, Freddie has returned to England and joined the RAF, flying harrowing bombing sorties over occupied Europe. Oskar, his wife, and daughter, Esme, are in Paris. When the round up of Jews takes place in 1942, Oskar and Esme manage to escape, heading south to Italy. In Florence, Isabella finds herself entangled with the local resistance, the brutal fascist authorities, and the German occupiers, unsure of who to trust, including her old enemy, Fosco. In turn, both Oskar and Freddie make their way back to the city, both via circuitous and dangerous routes.

The Way Back to Florence is a tale of love during war between an Italian woman and English man, and between a father and his young daughter. The characterisation is excellent, both in relation to the three lead characters, but also the supporting cast, with Haybittle creating a deep sense of affinity for Isabella, Freddie and Oskar and their plights. The tale is told as a multi-layered narrative, involving a number of entwined threads, and doesn’t pull any punches with respect to the harrowing experiences of the lead characters – being betrayed, flying over German cities at night, brutal interrogations, surviving concentration camps, being caught in the role of collaborator. Indeed, the tale is loaded with a deep sense of realism, tension and affect, so that just as the characters cycle through a gamut of emotions, so does the reader. And while the story is complex and involves a number of twists and turns, there is no sense of awkward plot devices. The result is a visceral, engaging, thoughtful and at times traumatic story of love, loyalties, compromises, and survival.

No comments: