The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of A Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell

What I didn’t realize when I read Mary Doria Russell’s lovely book, Dreamers of the Day, is that she has a reputation for writing much darker fiction, and that she is, in fact, the author of two bestselling science fiction classics, one of which I will review in the near future. A Thread of Grace is not science fiction, it is historical fiction, and you will find in various places online a lot of whining from sci-fi fans who demand that Russell stick with that genre. On the other hand, I love that she crosses genres, and I think she’s a brilliant writer, period. A Thread of Grace is dramatic, thought-provoking, well-written, and powerful.

It is the story of a collection of people who found themselves in Italy’s Piedmont region during late 1943 through early 1945. These people include Jewish refugees, Italian Jews, priests, nuns, Italian fascists, Resistance fighters, military personnel of every possible stripe, and those who would just like to be left alone but are compelled to act because that’s what war does. Russell’s characters range from infants to the stooped elderly, and there are so many of them that I cringed when I saw the character list at the front of the book. But Russell gives all of these characters individual voices, personalities, and roles, so that they all seem essential to the story. In fact, I think this might be her real strength — telling a “ripping yarn” with a large cast of vivid characters.

And what about plot? It can be summed up in one word: survival. Yet as Italy’s involvement in WWII wound down, survival became complex to the point of near impossibility. People were constantly on the move, and Russell’s most vivid character, Renzo Leoni, took on multiple personas just to keep going. Young teenager Claudette Blum progresses from skipping through the streets to carrying a gun. There is even a 9-year-old who has a part in the resistance. And, as one would expect from a story about this particular time and place, death is everywhere.

I can’t recommend this book strongly enough. It is not light reading by any definition, but it also doesn’t feel as unremittingly depressing as some other books with the same setting. Yes, it’s dark, but it’s also suspenseful and beautiful, with occasional light moments. The pacing is something to be aware of — it’s very fast, and you will want to read this book over a period of days, not weeks.

As for animals, I always feel it’s odd to mention that when reviewing a book that has a great deal of human death.  But the purpose of this blog is to screen books for animal lovers who don’t want to read about animal deaths or violence to animals. In that regard, the book is SAFE for animal lovers, although interestingly enough, the saddest animal note is when Russell mentions the death of a beloved dog in her author interview at the end of the book. Other than that, a pet canary is left behind as refugees flee, dogs serve their masters by barking and growling, a rat licks her fur, an unmilked cow bellows, and that’s about it.

One other thing: Russell includes maps. I love maps! One other plus for this book — you don’t need to read it with an atlas nearby.


December 17, 2009 - Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, historical fiction | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I want to show you my Blog “War Photoblog – II” with Url address . In the blog you can see photos from the history of the Second World War, in 29 parts.
    I want to show you my new Blog “Military Diplomacy” with Url address . The blog is for the diplomatic history and foreign policy during the Second World War. You can see also the Zhukov`s Berlin`s Strategic operation in photos.
    Best wishes
    Nikolay Kotev

    Comment by nikolaykotev | December 21, 2009 | Reply

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