- Book: The Garden of Angels
- Location: Venice
- Author: David Hewson
The Garden of Angels is a thoroughly engrossing thriller set against the background of WW2 Venice. It is 1943 and the Germans have occupied the city, and are beginning to round up Jews for the long rail journey north to the camps. It is a harrowing time. The story is told, fifty six years after the events by Nonno Paolo – on his deathbed – to his grandson, fifteen year old Nico. Paolo has written it all down in chapters, and Nico is given a chapter a day to read for the following six days. They are to converse between instalments.
Back in 1943, two young Jewish partisans have arrived in Venice from Turin, and they need sheltering. They are hidden by Aldo Diamante, a Jewish elder and by Father Filippo Garzone, a Catholic priest, in the Giardino degli Angeli of the book’s title. It is the run down home of the Uccello family silk weaving business. Teenage Paulo Uccello now lives there by himself (his parents were both killed)– an ideal location for a secret hideout. He is promised minimal involvement in the goings on but, of course, it does not work out that way. The brother, Vanni, is quiet and sensitive – and happy to stay at home with Paolo. The sister, Mika, is keener on finding local patriots and working with them. Plans are being made to attack a German gathering and kill as many as possible.
Arrests and torture are plentiful. The story moves to a bloody conclusion before Allied troops arrive and escort the Germans out of town.
But, as I indicated at the beginning, there is a deeper parallel story to the thriller. The book is as much about the trials and tribulations of humans involved in the most difficult of circumstances. How would you, as a civilian, survive the terrors of occupation? Would you ‘fight’ and quite possibly be killed – or worse, be imprisoned and tortured? Or would you keep your head down and go with the flow? Would you inform on friends and family? Yes, some of the characters in the book (mainly the Germans, but an Italian or two as well) are pure evil – but many of the others, even some of the collaborators, are a real mix of good and bad. Luca Alberti is an Italian policeman who works with the Germans. Ostensibly bad (looking after himself at the expense of others, sometimes torturing them), but with some redeeming features. It is not all black and white.
Times, of course move on. Nico matures – lives for a while in England – and then eventually returns to Venice in the present day… to find the Giardino degli Angeli has established a new life as a trendy bar and restaurant. Seventy five years seems a long time ago. Quite another period in history.
The book is absolutely great in TripFiction terms. Venice in the 1940s, the 1990s, and today really comes to life. David clearly knows the city well.
A gripping and immersive story.