Historical fiction is my jam. It’s by far my favorite genre, with World War II-era historical fiction topping the list of favorite time periods. While there are MANY WWII historical fiction novels, sometimes a new one comes along that knocks your socks off. That’s exactly what Adriana Trigiani’s done with her latest historical fiction, The Good Left Undone.
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The Good Left Undone: Synopsis
Headstrong Domenica is determined to make her way in the world: independent, educated, and full of fire. Always up for an adventure, she often found herself in trouble as a child, but one such adventure sealed her fate. As she helped the local doctor stitch a gash over her best friend’s eye following a fight, she found her calling: nursing. From that moment on, Domenica put all her energy into learning her craft and honing her skills under the tutelage of the benevolent doctor.
But in early 20th century Italy, women were not granted the same liberties as men, and outspoken feminists like Domenica easily found themselves in trouble. So it’s no surprise when her outspoken ways are noticed by the village priest. To avoid losing her nursing career, Domenica must flee to France where she’ll work as a nurse in a convent hospital.
From the moment she arrives in Marseille, Domenica longs for Italy. She misses her family, her home, and her culture. But with war ravaging all of Europe, returning to Italy isn’t an option, even if the priest gave his blessing. So, Domenica must find a way to cope with her displacement.
For the first time in her life, Domenica must look outside her family for support. Luckily, she finds solace and support in the nuns, nurses, and patients at the hospital. But one patient, in particular, will change her life forever. As it happens, fate has a plan for Domenica, and he’s taken the form of a brash, yet handsome Scottish ship captain.
Decades later, her daughter, Matelda, is facing death. She knows her time is coming soon, so she must prepare her family for what’s to come. In doing so, she’ll have to tell the truth about who she is and where she came from. Her children and grandchildren wait with bated breath as Matelda shares the story of her true famiglia.
The Good Left Undone: Musings
My friends, this book is a masterpiece of historical fiction. Truth be told, I own several Adriana Trigiani novels but have yet to read any of them. It’s safe to say that after reading this book, her entire backlist is a TOP priority! This book is incredible, y’all. I cannot stress that enough. Trigiani is a master at weaving timelines, characters, and storylines into an intricate constellation. The synopsis I share above barely scratches the surface of this novel. There is SO much to unpack!
I will say, there are a lot of characters in both storylines, but they all play a role in this heartfelt story of a family. Each of the people introduced in the novel played a role in the overall outcome of the story. The use of so many characters further emphasizes the importance of family, whether biological or chosen. Some of the most meaningful relationships in the book are those of chosen family.
I literally could not put this down for the last 150 pages. It was a bit slow to start, but once Domenica got to France the pace definitely quickened. There were no major shockers (well, maybe one or two), but I still felt surprised and shaken by a few of the twists and turns in the story. There is one scene in particular when an elderly man gives up his place in line that had me choking back a tear or two. And though I didn’t sob (I’m looking at you, Kristin Hannah books), every heartstring was pulled as the story developed and crescendoed.
One of the things I loved most about Trigiani’s writing style is how authentic her characters are. They truly feel like friends by the end of the book, so much so that I didn’t want the story to end. Her characters are salt-of-the-earth folks, which felt familiar and relatable (hello, The Four Winds). I’ll be thinking of these characters for a long time to come.
The other aspect of this book that I thoroughly enjoyed was learning more about the way Italian immigrants were treated in the UK. This book in no way sympathizes with the Nazi or Fascist regimes, but it does highlight the circumstances of the thousands of Italian immigrants living and working in England and Scotland. It evoked the same emotions I felt when I first learned about the Japanese internment in the US during WWII.
The Good Left Undone: Rating
This was everything I hoped for and more. I truly connected with the characters, learned something new, and was transported to another time and place. Adriana Trigiani has crafted a work of art in The Good Left Undone. If you love historical fiction, you MUST read this.
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