This is a heartbreaking story of love, and loss, and loneliness. It takes place in Italy, in the 1920’s. After the war begins, everything becomes more uncertain than it was before.
It is the story of love gone wrong, due to misunderstandings. There are unanswered questions, dripping with regret and second guessing. All of this is set in a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, which provides a vivid contrast to the sadness that some of the characters are experiencing.
Alice is a British ex-pat who is living in Florence, Italy with her family, surrounded by other families who are also British ex-pats. She comes from wealthy family, and is expected to marry an Englishman.
Instead, she marries Marchese Claudio Orsini, a titled, Italian nobleman who was the son of a landowner. He is ten years older than Alice, which doesn’t bother her. Alice’s mother, however, is completely distraught that her daughter failed to marry an Englishman (like she was supposed to).
The two newlyweds fled shortly after their wedding, in an effort to escape all the pointless social necessities. Most of Alice’s family were mean to Claudio, and this made it easier for her to leave her family and start a new life with him.
Long story short, they buy a large farm in Tuscany. While they do have a few people who are helping them with the work, there is still much to do. Alice knows nothing about farming, and she has difficulty adjusting. Eventually, she decides she loves this life and never wants to leave.
The couple have a son, who is delightful. He becomes sick, ends up in the hospital, and dies while there. His father, Claudio was there when he died. But, Alice was absent, because she left the hospital to visit her lover.
This causes a huge rift between Claudio and Alice, one that is not repaired. He leaves one morning to tend to a family who lives on their land – and never returns. Alice is left mourning their son, while also wondering if Claudio would ever return. The sense of loneliness hangs thick and heavy in the air.
Time goes on, and the war begins. It eventually enters Tuscany. Refugees are fleeing the countryside as the German army advances. Many end up at the farm, which by now, has a nurse and a make-shift hospital. There are homeless children who become part of a school/orphanage. Food is scarce, and times are very difficult.
There is always the threat that the German army will one day come and take the farm. Some of the people Alice (and her workers) are protecting are those that the German army would happily kill.
In the midst of all this, a woman arrives at the farm. Her leg is badly injured, and she does not give her name. The reader learns her story in pieces. She was once working for a painter, who became her lover. He refused to leave his wife. The woman has all kinds of doubts about whether she made the right choices, including one that was an indirect type of revenge.
The story is heartbreaking, and beautiful, and desperately sad. I feel like most of the unanswered questions are resolved by the end of the book. It is the kind of story that gives the reader a rich, visual, environment to walk around in, filled with people who are longing for someone they cannot have.