I’ve never been to Puglia in Italy, the south-eastern coast down to the heel, except in the pages of The Postcard from Italy by Angela Petch. Vividly she brings to life the coastline, the stone-built trulli houses, the caves. It is a magical setting. Stretching backwards from today to the closing months of the Second World War, this is an enthralling family story of love and separation. Recognising love when it’s there, but also understanding when it’s absent. In 1945, Puglia, a young man awakes, injured, disorientated. He doesn’t know who he is or how he came to be in a trullo, a rural stone house, cared for by strangers. The teenage boy Anto explains how his grandfather Domenico saw him fall from a warplane. Called ‘Roberto’ by his rescuers, his memory stubbornly refuses to return. He can speak English and Italian but knows nothing about fishing or farming. As he helps them in their daily routines, gathering food, catching fish, tending vegetables, repairing the trullo, his nights are full of confusing dreams.
In present day Hastings, England, Susannah mourns the recent death of her father Frank and the descent of her grandmother, Elsie, into the clouds of dementia. Clearing Elsie’s house, Susannah finds a yellowing postcard of a beautiful farmhouse in Puglia and a message of love. Realising this is the same farmhouse in a painting by her father but unaware of family links with Italy, she can’t reconcile this message of love with her brittle, acidic grandmother who always preferred Susannah’s blonde-haired younger sister Sybil. So, while a friend looks after her antique bric-a-brac shop at home, Susannah takes a holiday in Puglia. Determined to find the house in her father’s painting, she learns to heal herself, to speak a little Italian and in so doing falls for two handsome men.
Petch uses conventional wartime story themes – amnesia, separation of loved ones, the vulnerability of loneliness and grief, and the fear of those who exploit war for gain – and adds the twists and turns of flirting and love. Petch has written four novels set in Tuscany, so Puglia is a new setting for her but her knowledge of Italy shines on every page. Susannah’s holiday is extended as she turns detective but the clues, when she finds them, bring more questions rather than answers.
Susannah is the spine of the story but my favourite character was Anto, so complex, so brave, so intriguing. This is a wonderful book to sink into, a perfect holiday or weekend read.
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Here’s my review of THE TUSCAN SECRET, also by Angela Petch.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE POSTCARD FROM ITALY by @Angela_Petch #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Qk via @SandraDanby