Year of Publication Date: 28 January 2021
Publisher: W.F. Howes Ltd
Narrator: Richard Armitage
Genre: Historical Fiction
Strong Point: The story is just the perfect mixture of beauty and sadness.
Weak Point: Any!
Books on Tour Rating: (4/5)
Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4.57/5)
*I want to apologise if some of the Italian names are not correctly written. As I only had access to the audiobook, I didn’t have the means to check the spelling of the names.
“THE GARDEN OF ANGELS”
Nonno Paolo Uccello is in the hospital and 15 years old Nico, his grandson, went to visit him. He is not at the school because he was part of a bullying episode against a Jewish classmate.
Nico’s grandfather gets upset when he hears that Nico didn’t do anything to stop the bullying. Paolo gives then Nico five envelopes where he has written the story of his life. He pleads Nico to read it. Nico’s father doesn’t know the story written inside those envelopes. This is just for Nico to read.
Paolo sees in himself something of his old self. For this reason, he thinks Nico must learn his story, to understand his past which will make Nico understand himself.
Through the manuscript, Nico would learn of the 1943 Nazi occupation of Venice, of Partisans, of hatred, of violence, of living in war. Furthermore, he will discover aspects of Paolo’s life that he would never have guessed and which make him see his grandfather with new eyes.
In addition, Nonno Paolo’s story would change Nico, making him doubt who he really is, shaking him deep inside.
The manuscripts start the story when Paolo is 18 years old. He lives alone in his house because his parents died in an American air raid. His only company is dear Chiara who had worked with his parents in the family weaving company, creating a high-quality velvet.
Before his parents died, they had received a last order to do some banners for a mysterious man. And as money is quite scarce, Paolo decides to finish the banners with the help of Chiara.
However his life unexpectedly changed. He is asked to hide a Jewish brother and sister. They are being persecuted for being Partisans and fighting against the Nazis.
THE WAR AND THE NAZIS
One can think that this story in “The Garden of Angels” has been told many times before: the Second World War, the Nazis’ invasion of a country, the hatred against the Jews, the violence, the indifference for the human life, etc., etc.
However, what this book narrates is much more than that, and that is what makes the novel so special.
We learn of the life of the people whose country has been invaded, of the inhabitants of Venice who suffered the occupation.
We read about their daily lives, and about all their sufferings, their anger, their pain, the fear that they have to experience day after day. Similarly, we hear about the hatred they felt for their invaders. This is the case of the character of Chiara, for example.
Additionally, we find out about the people who decide to help the invaders. These are the ones who decide first to save themselves and try to survive the cruelty around them. They choose to live, no matter what. And if surviving means helping the Germans, they would do it. This is the case of Alberti, a city policeman.
However, collaborating with the Nazis comes with a price to pay. Their fellow citizen see them as traitors and despise them.
THE MARTYRS: PARTISANS
Likewise, we also learn the story of another side of the war, of the people who try to resist and fight against the invaders. They risk everything they have, including their lives, to help and save their country from the Nazis.
That is the story of the Partisan brother and sister from Turin considered terrorists by both the Germans and the local Venetian police.
We find out about their anger and dissatisfaction as a consequence of seeing their country torn apart and their lives changed forever because of the war.
Additionally, we know about the Venetian Resistance. Even among them there are some people who put their personal safety before that of their friends, family and country.
OTHER MARTYRS: THE VENETIANS
In addition we learn about another type of people. These are the Venetians who decide to help the Partisans.
They also risk their lives, but in a different way. They don’t actively fight with their hands, but by hiding Partisans and not complying with the Nazi orders.
Nevertheless, they also receive the hatred of their fellow citizens. From their perspective, sometimes it is not so clear on which side they are. However, as we read in the pages of “The Garden of Angels” some of them even die trying to help those people who despise them.
This is the case of the priest Philippo Garzone and the old doctor of the city, Aldo Diamante. The Nazis asked this last one to write a list with the names of all the Jews of the city. However, his principles and his love for Italy and its citizens, did not allow him to complete the task, no matter which consequences that might bring…
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT “THE GARDEN OF ANGELS”
The last chapter of the book is one of the most beautiful texts I have read in the last years.
Time passes and Nico is now a grown-up man. He still tries to fully assimilate the story of Nonno Paolo and his family, and what this all means personally for him. His identity is a different one. He is not who he thought he was. His childhood has been a sort of lie.
Nico comes back to The Garden of Angels, the house where Paolo and his family had lived in Venice. Nowadays, it is a coffeeshop and a sort of museum, and he is invited there for the inauguration of the exhibition. They uncover a plaque remembering the people who had died there as martyrs for a free Italy.
And this is the thing which makes the last chapter so special. While they are uncovering the plaque, Nico realizes that the young people who attended the ceremony, only cared for the free coffee. They don’t care at all to remember the people who died there to recover the country where they live in now back from the hands of the Nazis. They don’t care if they had to pay with their lives so that they can now live in a free Italy. What an irony, right?
That is why, this book is so special, because it makes us remember that those martyrs cannot, should not be forgotten; that the atrocities of war cannot, should not be left behind.
When Nico tries to gather information about Alberti and his whereabouts, the old people he asked preferred not to say anything. It was better to forget the war and its atrocities in order to not opening old wounds. However, it is also understandable that after suffering so much, people simply want to forget.
That is why, Nonno Paolo put the manuscript with his life in Nico’s hands, to be kept and remembered, never forgotten.