Is a painting worth dying for?
Inspired by real events, an unforgettable story of love, courage and sacrifice to save a country’s heritage.
Italy 1943. As the Allies bomb Milan, Elena Marchetti reluctantly gives up her coveted job as an art curator in the city to return to her family farm near Urbino. She takes up a new role assisting Pasquale Rotondi, the Superintendent of Arts in the region, in protecting works of art from all over Italy that have been hidden in the relative safety of the countryside.
At a family celebration, Elena reunites with Luca, a close childhood friend. A shattering event instigated by the occupying Germans deepens their relationship, and they start planning a life together. When rumors surface that Italy’s art is being stolen by the German occupiers, Pasquale hatches an audacious plan to rescue the priceless paintings in his possession. Elena and Luca are forced to make an impossible decision: will they embark on a dangerous mission to save Italy’s cultural heritage?
“I don’t want tonight to be over!”
Elena’s younger sister, Giulia, was twirling around their bedroom in her linen nightgown, her brown hair loose around her shoulders. Elena, already tucked up in their shared bed, smiled indulgently as she watched her sister dance to some imaginary tune with an imaginary partner.
“It was a real party, wasn’t it, Elena? I wish we hadn’t left—I wanted to squeeze every last drop out of it.” She stopped dancing, her face flushed, and skipped toward the bed, launching herself onto the covers beside Elena. Giulia sat cross-legged and looked at her sister. “It’s different for you,” she said, pouting a little. “You must have had so many chances to dance in Milan. All those parties and boys! And I was just stuck here, doing nothing fun, ever. When is this stupid war going to be over?”
Elena wanted to laugh at the angry expression on Giulia’s face. Instead, she took her sister’s hands in hers. “You’re sixteen, and there’s time, I promise you. When this is all over, I’ll take you to Milan myself. You can meet all the boys—or men—you want.”
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Give ideas for a book party centered around your book!
My novel ‘Saving Madonna’ would surely lend itself to a memorable book party. Forget about the dramatic story based on real life events and the discussions it will inspire—the setting alone is made for a memorable get-together.
The novel takes place in and around Urbino, a Renaissance city in central Italy. There is a scene early in the story which depicts a party in the countryside to celebrate the 80th birthday of Luca’s grandmother, or Nonna in Italian. For your book party, you can recreate much of this feast at home, although I cannot guarantee that you will be able to find cheeses and meats as mouth-watering as those made in the region. Look for slices of prosciutto and salami, and Italian cheeses such as parmigiano and casciotta. Locally grown crops feature heavily as well, so add carrot sticks, figs, grapes and olives to the mix. You won’t be able to find the flaky cresce flatbreads that are made in this part of Italy, but any delicious breads will work. And if you need more filling food, consider some ravioli or other pasta dishes—always welcome!
Depending on your guest list, you could offer some delicious Italian wine. This part of Italy is famous for a crisp white wine, Verdicchiodei Castelli di Jesi, as well as some full-bodied reds, such as Rosso Cònero. In the book, the characters also enjoydrinks such as amaro, a bittersweet Italian herbal liqueur.
Obviously, the food and drinks are important at any party but what about the book itself? Here are a few discussion questions to get the conversation flowing!
Luca and his brother disagree on what their priorities should be in a time of war. Luca thinks his job is to continue to work on the farm to provide food for the family and the community. His brother Lorenzo would rather join the resistance to fight the occupying Germans. What do you think you would do in this situation?
Elena falls in love with art as a young child and decides that she wants a career in that world. Was there something you fell in love with as a child that has informed your future life choices?
Saving art in times of peril is a main theme of this story. What works of art would you consider priceless in your culture? How far do you think people should go to save them?
Do you have a favorite painting? Why do you like it?
What was the most memorable scene in the book?
Which character would you like to have dinner with and why?
What surprised you about this story?
Let me know if you host a ‘Saving Madonna’ book party! I would love to hear about your discussions.
Kate Bristow was born in London. She fell in love with reading when she got her first library card at the age of four. Her first attempt at writing and publishing for a wide audience was a local newspaper typed laboriously at home on her mother’s typewriter while at primary (elementary) school in north London. It is surely a loss to cutting-edge journalism that only one issue was ever produced. Kate divides her time between her small-but-perfectly-formed modern home in Los Angeles and her five-hundred-year-old farmhouse just outside Sassocorvaro in Italy.