Wednesday, November 20, 2013

“The Light in the Ruins” by Chris Bohjalian – Desolating Beauty

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian – Book Cover
The year is 1943, and the Rosati family is safely tucked away into their villa standing in the lush hills south of breathtaking Florence. The war is of no concern to them as the walls keep them protected and they are way out of harm’s way. However, their idyllic life is soon ruptured as two soldiers approach and demand to use their villa as refuge. Needless to say, more Nazi soldiers start pouring in, and the villa slowly turns into a nightmarish prison from the safe haven it once was. Fast forwarding twelve years later, it is now 1955, and though the war is over, the Rosatis still aren’t out of the woods; there is a serial killer who is methodically finishing them off one by one. Serafina Bettini is the gorgeous investigator tasked with finding that killer, but in the process she must also face the scars the war left on her and fight her inner demons before she can move on to the real ones.

Such is the rather complex premise of The Light in the Ruins, a novel by Chris Bohjalian who has never failed to commentate on one social issue or another, having seemingly written most of his novels for that very purpose. For starters, I have to say that this novel lacks a bit in structure and rigidity, jumping back and forth between 1943 and 1955 at every chapter. Though it would sound like a nice arrangement, the two timelines are quite different in their events and at the end of one chapter it is easy to forget what was happening in the last one.

Nevertheless, I’d say that once you get used to it and strain your memory a bit, this mechanism works quite well as it helps to keep the tension and mystery alive. The plot itself is very enthralling, putting extremely believable characters in tremendously-difficult, dangerous and even despicable situations; the real pleasure comes from watching the Rosatis wriggle out of the hell they are seemingly trapped in for over a decade. The serial killer is also a wonder to watch as we get little monologues here and there as he patiently stalks yet another member of the Rosati family.

From what I understood, this novel aimed to explore the scars left by war on its survivors. The alternating timelines help us to see the effects of horrific events not only in the moment, but also many years later. We get to see the psychological toll they take on people, and that in some cases, living through such moments is mandatory if the person is to survive. All in all, it may very well explore the ugliest aspect of war when it comes to the fortunate ones who manage to survive it.

All things taken into consideration, The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian is a very solid and emotional novel which succeeds in telling a captivating story and teaching us about the ravages of war, all of it set against the drop-dead gorgeous scenery of the Italian hills. I definitely recommend this novel to anyone interested in exploring the atrocities of war from a civilian perspective, and also those who simply want to enjoy an emotional novel with plenty of suspense and mystery to keep the pages turning.

Chris Bohjalian (August 12, 1962)

Chris Bohjalian 

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Chris Bohjalian is an American novelist born in New York, and whose novels generally focus on a specific issue in our world, such as animal rights and homelessness, driven by flawed and complex characters. He wrote more than fifteen novels at this point, including Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls, which are both bestsellers.

More of the Chris Bohjalian's book reviews:
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