A timeless story of family, war, art, and betrayal set around an ancient, ancestral home in the Tuscan countryside from bestselling novelist Valerie Martin.
When Jan Vidor, an American writer and academic, rents an apartment in a Tuscan villa for the summer, she plans to spend her break working on a novel about Mussolini. Instead, she finds herself captivated by her aristocratic landlady, the elegant, acerbic Beatrice Salviati Bartolo Doyle, whose family has owned Villa Chiara for generations. Jan is intrigued by Beatrice’s stories of World War II, particularly by the tragic fate of her uncle Sandro, who was mysteriously murdered in the driveway of the villa at the conclusion of the war. Day by day, Beatrice makes Jan privy to her family history.
As years go by and the friendship is sustained by infrequent meetings, Jan finds she can’t resist writing Beatrice’s story. But as she works on the novel, it becomes clear that the villa itself is at risk and that Beatrice is incapable of saving it. Jan understands that she is telling the story of a catastrophe her friend might prefer to conceal. She presses on.
An Italian villa and the family that owns it capture the imagination of an American writer in Martin's intimate, disquieting latest (after the collection Sea Lovers). In the summer of 1983, novelist and professor Jan Vidor rents a Tuscan apartment in a converted outbuilding at the Villa Chiara. Her landlady is elegant, well-educated Beatrice Salviati Bartolo Doyle. Beatrice and her mother occupy one part of the villa, while cousins Luca and Mimma another. As Jan and Beatrice become friends, Beatrice begins to share family stories. Her grandfather, she recounts, was a wealthy Florence banker named Giacomo Salviati. In 1905, Giacomo's oldest son, Sandro, refuses to give up the grocer's daughter he loves, so Giacomo confines Sandro to an insane asylum. After Giacomo dies, Sandro's brother Marco, an avid Mussolini supporter, squanders much of the family fortune. This family history (including how Sandro was shot by fascists, partisans, or perhaps his own brother) inspires Jan to write a novel about the Salviatis. Martin's engrossing tale explores relationships among family members and workers over four generations, occasionally in a rambling manner, though the prose remains alluring. Martin's masterly descriptions of the villa and its gardens are transportive. Evoking the charms and complexities of 20th-century Italy, Martin offers a thought-provoking reflection on writing, friendship, family, and betrayal.