Title: From Sand and Ash
Author: Amy Harmon
Italy, 1943—Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II.
As children, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family but divided by circumstance and religion. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love. But the church calls to Angelo and, despite his deep feelings for Eva, he chooses the priesthood.
Now, more than a decade later, Angelo is a Catholic priest and Eva is a woman with nowhere to turn. With the Gestapo closing in, Angelo hides Eva within the walls of a convent, where Eva discovers she is just one of many Jews being sheltered by the Catholic Church.
But Eva can’t quietly hide, waiting for deliverance, while Angelo risks everything to keep her safe. With the world at war and so many in need, Angelo and Eva face trial after trial, choice after agonizing choice, until fate and fortune finally collide, leaving them with the most difficult decision of all.
Amy Harmon is a gorgeous author. She takes historical fiction and brings it to light for readers who may not be as knowledgeable about history. But unlike many other historical fiction authors, she does not glamorize the past. Instead, Harmon presents history as is and produces stories that are relevant to the time period.
“Then Eva’s mother had said her daughter’s name, and it crackled and broke between her lips like old paper.”
From Sand and Ash is a remarkable novel in the way that it examines Italy during World War II in 1943. But the best part about this novel is that it skips back and forth between the future and the past in order to connect the events between a Catholic and Jew who are friends and grew up together. They are in love with one other, but they can’t be together based on their differing religions. This in itself is heartbreaking, but Harmon expands on the time period to portray the laws that were created against Jews during World War II in Italy. Before reading this novel, I was not aware of how Jews were treated in Italy during the war, and I found From Sand and Ash to be an impromptu history course in this untold history. Harmon has a way of making her novel educational while also tearing at the readers’ heartstrings.
“The way she said the name, the rasping whisper, the way she sighed through the syllables like it was the last word she would ever say, had made Eva hate her name for a very long time.”
Harmon is an artist with her words, as can be seen in the sample quotes that I have provided. She turns simple sentences into poetic art, and her words made the story leap off of the page. I fell in love with Eva and Angelo’s relationship, and I found my heart breaking for them and the terrible events that occurred throughout the novel. Harmon even made a suicide in the novel seem poetic, but she revealed the awfulness of the situation as well. Her words did not glamorize the horrific events that occurred during World War II, but she took the sorrow and used it to amplify her story.
I have not rated a novel 5 out of 5 in quite a long time, but From Sand and Ash more than deserves it. This book had everything that I look for in a historical novel: poetic language, knowledge about lesser known history, and vibrant characters who uniquely reflect their time period. From Sand and Ash is one of those rare novels that teaches the reader history while also bringing them enjoyment, and I will gladly continue to read this author’s work.
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