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The Light in the Ruins Hardcover – 9 Jul 2013


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Books (9 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385534817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385534819
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 3.2 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 420,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mat on 3 Sep 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A bookclub choice that I would never have selected as I didn't know this author. It's beautifully written and highly evocative of Italy in 2 contrasting periods that are not so far apart.

I much preferred the murder mystery part set in 1955 but I didn't know much about the Italien's relationship with their so called allies and this book highlights what, for me, was a little known part of WW2. It makes you think about how you would cope - collaborate with the Germans and be hated by your fellow countrymen and the partisans or risk death by making a stand against them.

I guessed who the mystery murderer was but that didn't detract from a well written and interesting book with imaginative characters you care about. I recommend this book and I read it very quickly as I was absorbed by it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Annabel on 21 Sep 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - it is set in the hills of Florence during WWII and the story surrounds the Rosatis family (of noble lineage) who feel they are safe in their ancient villa away from the atrocities (raging across Europe) occurring during 1943. The story then moves to 1955 and an investigator (with the Florence Police Serafina Bettini ) is asked to investigate a new case involving a serial killer (who brutally slays the victim and cuts out their heart). The victims are the remnants of the Rosatis family and it unveils a breathtaking story of human frailty and repercussions of the devastation of WWII....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Hilary Doyle on 17 Aug 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Light in the Ruins is a terrific book. Chris Bohjalian transports us back to a time and place where life was precarious and the Nazis were wreaking havoc on life in so many European countries. We learn through the trials of the Rosatis how life changed forever during World War II.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Julia Flyte TOP 100 REVIEWER on 20 Oct 2013
Format: Hardcover
I'm a little baffled by the glowing reviews for this book. I felt that it dragged. It took me two weeks to read and it was only sheer stubbornness that kept me going. It's set in Tuscany and the story unfolds in dual storylines. In 1943-44, the wealthy Rosati family are living in the Villa Chimera and somewhat reluctantly playing host to a number of Nazis who come to visit a recently discovered Etruscan tomb on their land. In 1955, the same family are being targeted one by one by a serial killer. Detective Serafina Bettini is trying to find the serial killer and to understand what might have happened during the war to make the family a target today. She will also discover that she holds a very personal connection with the Rosati family.

One thing that frustrated me about this book is that it couldn't decide what it wanted to be. In part, it's a murder mystery, but there is virtually no way that the reader can work out the solution for themselves. In part it's a romance, but it felt like the author lost interest in the romance because it's almost entirely absent from the final third of the book. Moreover, the way that the story is told in two timeframes means that much of the suspense from the 1943 events is lost because we already have a sense of what is going to happen and who is going to survive that period.

There is a large host of characters and they all tend to blur. I didn't really feel any connection to any of them, except maybe to Cristina and Serafina, but even then there was so much going on that Cristina almost fades away as a main character and Serafina doesn't have enough of an arc. Sensitive readers should also be aware that there are graphic murder details and other cruelty eg to animals is spelled out in detail.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 546 reviews
55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Part Historical Novel/Part Murder Mystery 8 Jun 2013
By Mary Lins - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love Chris Bohjalian best when he is writing historical fiction (i.e., "Skeletons at the Feast", "Sandcastle Girls"); his new novel is part historical fiction part murder mystery called, "The Light in the Ruins" and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The setting is Tuscany which afforded him a lush and vivid palette upon which to paint his story. The time is WWII and ten years after.

Set in two time-frames, the story revolves around the Rosatis family. In 1943-44, Italy is being run by the Nazis and the Fascists, partisans live in the hills and attempt as much damage to both as possible. The Rosatis family has a villa in the countryside where years before an Etruscan tomb was unearthed. The Nazis have been plundering Italian art and artifacts bringing their unwanted attention to the Rosatis. Our protagonist Serafina Bettini, is a member of a band of partisans.

In 1955 the story becomes a murder mystery when remaining members of the Rosatis family are murdered in a specifically grizzly fashion. Serafina is now a police detective in Florence. She has been physically and psychologically damaged by her partisan past. Bohjalian does a terrific job of bringing us into her world where she is something of a freak being a physically deformed former killer, a woman detective, and single at 30 in 1955; nothing normal about any of that!

For me, a good historical novel sends me happily researching to find out more about the time and the setting. "The Light in the Ruins" sent me off to explore Etruscan art, Chimera, the Ahnenerbe, and the Italian resistance movement. I've had the fortune to have visited Florence, Rome, the Uffizi, and even little Fiesole, so I reveled in Bohjalian's descriptions of these places and my memories of them.

I would like to echo Chris Bohjalian's own recommendation in his "Acknowledgements" and urge readers interested in Italy during WWII to also read Mary Doria Russell's excellent novel, "A Thread of Grace".
116 of 131 people found the following review helpful
Chimera, who breathed raging fire 19 May 2013
By Maine Colonial - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Two time periods alternate chapters in this story: 1943/44 and 1955. To say that Italy was in flux in 1943/44 would be an understatement. The war was turning against the Axis, and it was clear Italy would become a battleground. Germany, ostensibly Italy's ally, tore off the disguise of friend and became an occupier. Former enthusiastic supporters of the Fascist Blackshirts were hedging their bets. Anti-fascist partisans prowled the hills, sabotaging the German war effort. Ordinary Italians just tried to weather the storm.

For the noble Rosati family, living in the Villa Chimera in the Tuscan hill country near Florence, the harsh reality of war could still almost be ignored. Cristina, 18 years old, took daily rides on her beloved horse, went swimming in the pool with her young niece and nephew, and shared meals and wine with her sister-in-law and her parents. Her two brothers were in the army, but Vittore was nearby, in Florence, and Marco in Sicily. Maybe the war would be over soon and they could all be together once again.

But the turmoil of Italy, as the war drew to its cataclysmic end, plays out in microcosm at the Villa Chimera. There are angry murmurs in the village, and even among some family members, about Antonio Rosati's having Germans as guests at the Villa Chimera. Now, one of those German guests and his own daughter Cristina seem to be falling in love. As the fighting between the Germans and the Allies and partisans intensifies, the Tuscan hills become a battleground and the Villa Chimera transforms from a haven to a pawn of war.

Ten years after the war's end, Serafina Bettini is one of very few female police officers in Italy, and definitely the only homicide detective. Together with her partner and mentor, Paolo Ficino, she is investigating the shocking case of a killer targeting the Rosati family.

This killer, whose chilling voice appears at the start of the 1955 chapters, has already slaughtered two members of the family and cut out their hearts. The killer tells us that the job won't be finished until all the descendants of Antonio Rosati are wiped out. Serafina's investigation will bring her back to the Tuscan hills where she fought alongside her partisan comrades, and memories of the battle that left her scarred in body and mind.

I tore through The Light in the Ruins in just two sittings. Bohjalian deftly brings his large cast of characters to life. They are complex and flawed; the Rosatis put into a nearly impossible situation that forces us to ask ourselves what we would have done in their situation.

In mystery fiction, it's almost a cliché at this point to have the killer's monologue interspersed in the story, but it didn't feel that way in this book. Instead, each time the killer speaks, it ratchets up the tension as another Rosati is stalked and we receive tantalizing hints about the killer's motivation and identity.

Alternating chapters between two different time periods is also a commonplace in novels now, but the technique is used to good effect here. The story of Serafina and the Rosatis in 1955 shows us the scars of the war, and the 1943/44 chapters vividly illustrate how they were earned.

The Light in the Ruins is a gripping, suspenseful and haunting historical novel that should appeal to regular readers of Bohjalian's work and fans of historical novels and mysteries. Hardcore mystery readers might quibble at the book's relative lack of investigative detail, but I think most would welcome a series featuring Serafina Bettini.
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Not My Favorite by this Author 9 July 2013
By GlendaG - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
1943: The Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis' quiet life is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.

1955: A serial killer is targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood. Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons and haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to the case, she finds herself digging into the victims' past and her own tragic history.

I read everything this author writes. Most I love, some are just ok. This one was just ok for me. I'm not sure exactly what didn't work for me. I enjoyed it when I was reading it--it just wasn't one of those that called to me. I felt like Serafina's connection to the murders was a stretch. What are the chances of her investigating murders that involved her past? I felt for all the Rosatis had to go through...I just didn't really connect with them. Many of the artifacts were unfamiliar to me and I had to look them up to fully understand what they were talking about. There were a lot of secondary characters introduced that really didn't have a lot to do with the story. The murderer's identity was a surprise for me too because he wasn't mentioned a lot in the story either. I will still read Bohjalian's future novels. This one just wasn't a favorite for me.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Ethnic Destruction and Fortitude in an Enthralling Novel 28 May 2013
By Mr. August - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Chris Bohjalian transports us over a 12 year time period moving us from 1943 and 1955 - it is a synchronization that compels the reader to go on a journey with the author's subject and characters. Historically, it is carefully written portraying the atrocities of WWII reverberating in the bucolic ancient villa of the Rosati family.

The author astonishes the reader immediately with a grotesque murder of a beautiful woman in 1955. Her heart is cut out of her body and placed on a dressing table in her squalid apartment in Florence, Italy. The murderer addresses the reader in first person and we are immediately caught up in extreme act of violence and hatred. And whom did he kill? Not a Nazi or a Mussolini supporter, but a young widow, Francesca Rosati, in her 30's who lost her Italian husband and two children in 1943.

The story behind this act brings to light the dichotomy between the ardent Nazis, with little or no education of artifacts and the serene, elegant Rosati villa with its symbols and tombs. Believing that their family would be safe, the Rosatis, of noble lineage, carry on their usual idyllic life far removed from the European War. This sanctuary is abandoned when two soldiers, one German and one Italian descend on the villa asking to see the Etruscan burial site and later demanding hospitality.

The author also depicts Cristina Rosati, the youngest daughter, as a profound character whose experiences and actions during 1943 impacts the genius of the plot. Another beautiful Italian, Serafina Bettini, is an investigator for the Florence police and is assigned to the horrific murder of Francesca. Serrafina endures her own emotional and physical scars as she unfolds the Rosati cold-blooded murders. The story is a moral contradiction as the ironies of shattered lives are unveiled to the reader. This novel had depth and deserved a better title, however. It is a captivating study of human weakness against a backdrop of the exquisite Italian landscape. 4.5 stars
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Slow and less than gripping 20 Oct 2013
By Julia Flyte - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'm a little baffled by the glowing reviews for this book. I felt that it dragged. It took me two weeks to read and it was only sheer stubbornness that kept me going. It's set in Tuscany and the story unfolds in dual storylines. In 1943-44, the wealthy Rosati family are living in the Villa Chimera and somewhat reluctantly playing host to a number of Nazis who come to visit a recently discovered Etruscan tomb on their land. In 1955, the same family are being targeted one by one by a serial killer. Detective Serafina Bettini is trying to find the serial killer and to understand what might have happened during the war to make the family a target today. She will also discover that she holds a very personal connection with the Rosati family.

One thing that frustrated me about this book is that it couldn't decide what it wanted to be. In part, it's a murder mystery, but there is virtually no way that the reader can work out the solution for themselves. In part it's a romance, but it felt like the author lost interest in the romance because it's almost entirely absent from the final third of the book. Moreover, the way that the story is told in two timeframes means that much of the suspense from the 1943 events is lost because we already have a sense of what is going to happen and who is going to survive that period.

There is a large host of characters and they all tend to blur. I didn't really feel any connection to any of them, except maybe to Cristina and Serafina, but even then there was so much going on that Cristina almost fades away as a main character and Serafina doesn't have enough of an arc. Sensitive readers should also be aware that there are graphic murder details and other cruelty eg to animals is spelled out in detail.
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