This latest novel from Dinah Jeffries takes readers right to the centre of the action in World War II as two women help in the dangerous fight against German occupation in Italy.
One of the most pleasing things about reading a novel by Dinah Jefferies is the way in which she manages to create such strong female characters who are all admirable in the face of adversity.
This has never been more prominent than in her latest novel The Tuscan Contessa, set in the two years before the end of the war as Contessa Sofia de’Corsi and Maxine join in the fight for the resistance by helping the Partisans pass on information to the allied forces. It is a story that is filled with love, grief, anxiety but just as importantly hope – even in the darkest of times.
This is a book that really marks a striking contrast to her previous novels including ‘Before The Rains’ and ‘The Missing Sister’ – both set in exotic locations with descriptions so vivid you feel you are right there with the characters. With The Tuscan Contessa, it comes across as even more striking as much of what is told has basis in historical fact – it is less glamorous and more gritty as descriptions of the aftermath of bombs exploding and the tragedy of two deaths in particular that leave a lasting impression.
The sense of danger and terror of what Maxine and Sofia are trying to do is so apparent on every page that it is difficult to pull yourself out of the story, keeping you compelled to read until the very end. Every detail has been given plenty of thought – not only evidenced in the story itself but in the timeline thoughtfully placed at the beginning to give the reader extra context.
Emotionally, it is also a very raw read as you find out about many characters experiences of the war – told with great frankness and honesty that are plenty of moments that will shock as the reader realises that this was the reality of the war.
It is a story that reveals the great strength and courage of the women in war – Maxine and Sofia are both determined to play their part no matter what the cost is to themselves. Both are equally admirable and by the end you have a strong appreciation for what they go through to try and help the resistance. Nothing is ever sugarcoated.
Overall, The Tuscan Contessa is a powerful and impressive read in the way it merges both history and fiction to tell a compelling story set in the darkest of times. It is beautifully and sensitively told.
By Emma Clarendon
The Tuscan Contessa is available to buy now.