December has been busy, and I haven't been reading fiction with strong female protagonists lately. I debated with myself over whether a review of Playing With Fire, Tess Gerritsen's recent standalone thriller, belongs on this blog. This is a dual time period book, and it was the historical female protagonist that caused me to decide in favor of posting about this book on Book Babe.
Violinist Julia Ansdell, the contemporary central character, tried to be strong but she was more often a victim who needed to be rescued. Her life was beyond her control, and her judgment was very badly compromised for reasons that became clear by the end of the book. Because she didn't understand what was going on, she didn't know who to trust and fought the wrong battles. I was glad when Julia's situation was finally resolved, but she wasn't our Book Babe heroine.
I found her in the historical narrative which took place in Venice, Italy during the 1930's and 1940's. Julia had found the manuscript of a mysterious unpublished piece of music called Incendio by L. Tedesco. He is violinist/composer Lorenzo Tedesco, the viewpoint character of this story line. The Tedescos were a Jewish family and this was Fascist Italy which became occupied by their ally, Nazi Germany. Lorenzo might have been forgotten despite his brilliance if it were not for a brave young cellist named Laura Balbini. Laura had been seriously burned in an accident, but it didn't damage her confidence even though it marred her beauty. When she wanted to enter a musical contest, she dared to rehearse a duet with Lorenzo even though Jews were viewed with extreme prejudice. She also had the courage to care about him and I believe it was she who motivated her father to try to help the Tedescos. I know that she persuaded her father to shelter Jews who were strangers under conditions of tremendous danger. She said to her father, "What if it was Lorenzo?" At the end of her historical notes, Gerritsen tells us "In the darkest of times, there will always be a Laura to light the way." Laura's story is linked more directly to Julia's because she also played an important role in the composition of Incendio.
Laura and Lorenzo are fictional characters, but they had real life parallels. There were many real Italians who saved Jews at the risk of their lives. There were also real Jewish musicians like Lorenzo during this period.
Some of you may remember another novel that took place in Fascist Italy dealing with another courageous woman cellist who worked for the Italian Resistance, and utilized a very unusual means of passing on secret messages. It was The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman which I reviewed on Book Babe here. This shows that woman heroes may be uncommon, but not unique.
2015 was the year that I uncovered the role of Italian woman musicians in opposing the Nazis in novels by Alyson Richman and Tess Gerritsen. In 2016 I anticipate discovering other great woman heroes in historical fiction, and I will be sure to share these discoveries with you on Book Babe.