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Literature / A Thread of Grace

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A Thread of Grace is the third novel by Mary Doria Russell, best known for her Science Fiction work The Sparrow. Instead of a distant planet, this story is set in World War II Italy during the months between Italy's official surrender and the end of the war in Europe.

The book follows several groups of people as they struggle to survive the recent Nazi occupation of Italy. One set of stories follows several Jewish refugees as they hide out with peasant farmers in the mountains. Another set follows the efforts of the Italian Resistance as led by Renzo Leoni (and aided by a doctor/Nazi deserter). Another set follows the German SS officers commissioned with bringing Italy under control.

It is essentially a fictional retelling of how ordinary Italians saved over 40,000 Jews (Italian and otherwise) from being sent to the camps by the Nazis. However, as this is set during World War II, this heroism comes at a massive personal cost to every named character.

Tropes in this work:

  • Action Bomb: Lidia Leoni's last act is to blow up a jail to facilitate an escape/theft of essential materials for the Italian Resistance.
  • The Alcoholic: Werner is this way at the beginning of the book, but he sobers up enough to help the Italian Resistance.
  • Alliterative Name: Lidia Leoni.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Claudia names her new baby Alberto after her dead father. The baby dies two days later.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: The beginning lists the major characters we will be following. At least five different plot threads occasionally intersect.
  • Meaningful Echo: After a drunken Schramm confesses to Don Osvaldo that he killed 91,687 people at the camps with a euthanizing syringe to the heart, Osvaldo tells Schramm to kill himself as there will be no absolution for him. At the end of the book, after Schramm devotes his efforts to helping the Italian resistance (including teaching a Jewish boy how to be a medic) he risks his life to save a captured and violently tortured Don Osvaldo. When it becomes apparent that he’s beyond saving, but may live just long enough to divulge what he knows about the Resistance, Schramm, after being permitted and taught by another priest, gives Osvaldo his last rites and releases him from his pain. With a syringe to the heart.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: A blackly comic version. While Lidia, Rabbi Soncini and Renzo talk about the danger of allowing Jews to go to Yom Kippur services, they keep shushing Angelo, who desperately wants to show the adults what he found in the street. He had found a woman's thumb, complete with freshly applied nail polish.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Claudia gives birth to her late husband's child, but the premature baby dies two days later. It is doubly tragic in that the baby was named after her late father.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Many of the characters as the book progresses, but the most triumphant example has to be Claudia/Claudette, who goes from bratty teenager to hardened resistance fighter.
  • Villains Out Shopping: In between conversations about crushing the Italian Resistance, von Thadden and Reinecke talk about how pleasant it would be for their wives to meet and how their children are doing.
  • Violence Discretion Shot: These are used less and less as the book progresses to build up the tension and the stakes.
  • Wham Line: "It's like flying, except you never come down."