My father loved Italy. When he spoke about traveling, he’d always mention Italy. The food, the culture, and the beautiful sights. But Italy was more to him than that. He’d never fail to explain how Italians treated Jews far better than other nationalities in Europe during the war.
So it was with this in mind that I picked up Margaret Wurtele’s debut novel, The Golden Hour (NAL Trade, 2012), which takes place in Tuscany during the last year of the war.
Giovanna Bellini is a 17 year-old devout Catholic who spends her days helping nuns at the local convent school. When she falls for a Nazi soldier who is part of the occupying forces in her town, her family and the convent nuns try to steer her away from him. Her only sibling, a brother named Giorgio, refuses to join the Italian military and instead runs away to fight with the resistance. Soon Giorgio has enlisted Giovanna to supply his group with food and supplies.
And one day he asks Giovanna to hide a couple of brothers (one of whom is wounded) for one reason. They’re Jewish.
Giovanna finds them a place to hide and nurses the wounded Mario back to good health. But before Mario is healed, his brother Cecilio leaves to rejoin his resistance group. Mario wants to leave, too, but Giovanna convinces him to stay after she learns about the ‘labor camps’ where the Nazis are sending Italian Jews.
Hiding a Jewish soldier is a huge responsibility for a teenage girl, but Giovanna risks everything for Mario’s sake. When the two fall in love, she becomes determined to marry him even if her family disapproves.
Wurtele keeps the story moving with thrilling chapter endings and tense developments along the way. Giovanna’s former love interest–the Nazi–plays a pivotal role in Mario’s and Giorgio’s futures.
I’ve read quite a few Holocaust books, but most have been written from the standpoint of Jewish characters and by Jewish authors. Wurtele isn’t Jewish and her protagonist is Catholic, yet her novel is just as heart-wrenching and important as the other Holocaust stories.
I know my father would have approved.