A Letter from Italy by Pamela Hart

In brief: Rebecca Quinn is determined to make a name for herself as a journalist while in Italy during World War I. When her husband leaves to follow a story, she teams up with Italian-American photographer Alessandro. Together, they deliver stories that are important and heart-wrenching. But what of their relationship?

The good: The story is action packed and the descriptions of Italy beautiful.

The not-so-good: My schedule was really not helpful in allowing me to read huge chunks of this novel at once!

Why I chose it: Love Pamela Hart’s books, thanks Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2017

Pages: 336

Publisher: Hachette

Setting: Italy

My rating: 10 out of 10

Just when I thought I couldn’t love Pamela Hart’s books any more, A Letter from Italy arrives. With every book, the stories and emotion become more enjoyable, bringing to life a section of history forgotten about. In A Letter from Italy, Pamela Hart is inspired by the first woman war correspondent, Louise Mack, and weaves a story that is passionate, action packed and fascinating down to the last detail.

Australian Rebecca Quinn has always wanted to move away from the boredom of the women’s pages in the newspaper and report real news. When she and journalist husband Jack move to Italy to report on World War I, it’s possible that she might get that chance, helping Jack with a scoop or two. But when Jack takes off chasing an exclusive, Rebecca is left by herself in Brindisi. She decides to continue to report on the war, but she’s blocked at every turn for her gender. It’s then suggested that she team up with Alessandro Panucci (also known as Al Baker), an Italian-American who wants to make his name as a war photographer. With Sandro, Rebecca can hear about the press conferences and add photos to her story. Together they report on stories big and small, culminating in a story that has them thinking way outside the square and risking their lives. They know they work well as a team, but is there something more?

Rebecca is a modern character for her time, espousing women’s rights (her mother was a suffragette – now there’s a story I’d like to read). She believes in equality and won’t take no for an answer when she is barred from something just due to her sex. The young Italian women are fascinated that she has voted back in Australia, but Rebecca’s simple descriptions get her in big trouble with their husbands and fathers. As Rebecca remarks, it’s a lot more difficult to strip away the centuries of tradition in Italy compared to a young country in Australia. Yet she’s still a product of her time, with her conflicted feelings involving her husband Jack. Divorce is still scandalous, no matter what his crime is. She’s determined, but not willing to break out of the mould entirely.

Sandro is just lovely. His inner conflict as to who he is and where he fits – America? Italy? – is well done and wanting to be an artist via the relatively new medium of photography adds another interesting layer to his character. He comes up against the traditions of Italy, struggles with them, but makes graceful choices. I couldn’t help but cheer him on as much as I did Rebecca. And as for his Nonna Rosa…she has a fascinating history, told briefly but it’s her blunt observations that add a layer of wisdom and humour to the story.

A Letter from Italy also just flows beautifully. The characters are well crafted and the plot contains enough threads to make ‘one more chapter’ a must. The descriptions of Italy and its people are evocative, particularly those of Venice and the gondolas. It’s a great story which is captivating from the very beginning. If you want great Australian historical fiction, look no further than Pamela Hart.

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