Title: The Sweet Hills of Florence
Author: Jan Wallace Dickinson
Published: February 2018
Publisher: Hybrid Publishers
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
1941. Florence, city of strife. It is Hitler’s state visit to Florence and the last of the good times for Mussolini. From now on, he and his lover Clara will cling more closely together, ever more dependent upon each other as their country spirals into civil war and their lives disintegrate.
Annabelle and Enrico, young cousins from an ancient Florentine family, work first with the clandestine resistance, then openly with the partisans. Facing life and death together in the mountains, they forge a passionate life-long bond.
How reliable is memory and can we ever expiate past sins? Are some ghosts better left alone?
The ghosts of the city of Florence and Italy’s past are opened up by the expert eyes of Australian historical fiction novelist Jan Wallace Dickinson. The Sweet Hills of Florence is a powerful testimony to the past and to a time of great civil unrest. Gently wreathed into this compelling tale of Italy at war, is a rich parable of political unrest, Mussolini’s rule and a consuming love story. Jan Wallace Dickinson also reminds us through her novel, how the past vastly impacts on the present, is this richly told tale.
The Sweet Hills of Florence takes the reader right into the heart of the Italian city of Florence. An ethereal city defined by cathedrals and beautiful architecture, it is clear from early on in the novel that the city is under siege. As Hitler makes his all important visit to the city, it becomes apparent that Florence is entering a new stage of change. It is a city under a great deal stress, dealing with a country that is fractured by the presence of civil war. The Sweet Hills of Florence illuminates how lives are suddenly threatened and irrevocably changed. Among the good people of Florence are two young figures, Annabelle and Enrico. The cousins from a prominent Florentine family are compelled by the events around them to join the resistance. It throws these two promising young people in the pathway of the partisans. Fighting for their freedom and for their country, the two form an unbreakable bond. In The Sweet Hills of Florence, Jan Wallace Dickinson shows us how the choices made during unrest and the pressures of uncertainty during war can be continued to be felt in the present day.
The Sweet Hills of Florence a piece of historical fiction that has strong merit and I would urge any reader with even a passing interest in Italian history or World War II to seek out a copy of this novel. The strong lean towards the history books made me realise just how much I didn’t know about Italy’s history and the fate of prominent Italian cities, such as Florence, in the war. Although I have an awareness of the influence and role of Mussolini in Italy’s turbulent past, this book bridged a gap in my knowledge, but it did take some concentration. I came away feeling better informed and educated about Italy’s wartime history. I also felt much more informed about how the past has a part to play in the current political climate felt in Italy.
Jan Wallace Dickinson puts the spotlight on two young figures from a prominent Florentine family in her novel. Annabelle and Enrico are well constructed characters and I appreciated their journey. Both their ensuing adventures in the book are dangerous and action packed. These moments are offset by tender instances of love, loyalty and sacrifice. By the end of the novel I felt like I had been taken on one incredible journey with these characters. I also enjoyed the angle Dickinson took by introducing Annabelle’s grand niece to the mix. This gives the book a firm past to present dimension. The use of Annabelle’s diaries was an effective narrative device that I appreciated very much.
Jan Wallace Dickinson works hard to transport her reader firmly to the time and place of the main events of her novel, which is Florence during the war years. I visited Florence back in 2009 as part of a tour and although my visit was short, I will forever remember the rich history, culture, art and architecture. Through The Sweet Hills of Florence, I felt like the reading experience helped to situate me back in this rich locale, my feet were firmly set on the ground of this beautiful city. Oh how I long to return now I have a new sense of understanding about the torrid back history of this city and nation.
The sheer dedication and commitment the author has demonstrated in ensuring all the historical facts are right in this novel astounds me. This is a book richly seeped in historical understanding. Jan Wallace Dickinson provides a comprehensive picture of the key influential figures of this time (Mussolini, his mistress and Hitler) and she also highlights the all important plight of the ordinary citizens of the country. In addition, we receive a strong insight into the world of the resistance and the activities of the partisans. Likewise, Jan Wallace Dickinson touches on the influence of the Nazi war machine. One of my favourite segments of this novel revolved around the moves to hide Italy’s beautiful artwork from the clutches of the Nazi’s. It was captivating!
All in all this was a grandiose novel, so abundant in history that it reminded me of just how much I still have to learn about European history during World War II. Just be sure sure you have your historical thinking cap on while reading this novel. The Sweet Hills of Florence uses resonating characters to highlight the importance of love, loyalty, family, friendship and includes an Italian/Australian connection that ultimately reads well. I must note that the author of The Sweet Hills of Florence is incredibly giving and knowledgable about her craft. Do not hesitate to connect with Jan should you wish to discover more about this fascinating time in our not too distant past. I would love to hear this historically well versed author discuss her craft in person.
The Sweet Hills of Florence by Jan Wallace Dickinson published in February 2018 by Hybrid Publishers. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Sweet Hills of Florence, Jan Wallace Dickinson visit here.
*I wish to thank the author and the publisher, Hybrid Publishers, for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Sweet Hills of Florence is book #73 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge