All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Girl From Venice by Martin Cruz Smith

on December 30, 2016

girl-from-veniceThe Girl From Venice
Martin Cruz Smith
Simon & Schuster AUS
2016, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Venice, 1945. The war may be waning, but the city known as La Serenissima is still occupied and the people of Italy fear the power of the Third Reich. One night, under a canopy of stars, a fisherman named Cenzo comes across a young woman’s body floating in the lagoon and soon discovers that she is still alive and in trouble.

Born to a wealthy Jewish family, Giulia is on the run from the Wehrmacht SS. Cenzo chooses to protect Giulia rather than hand her over to the Nazis. This act of kindness leads them into the world of Partisans, random executions, the arts of forgery and high explosives, Mussolini’s broken promises, the black market and gold, and, everywhere, the enigmatic maze of the Venice Lagoon.

The Girl from Venice is a thriller, a mystery, and a retelling of Italian history that will take your breath away. Most of all it is a love story.

Author Martin Cruz Smith is probably best known for his series featuring the Russian investigator Arkady Renko which kicked off with Gorky Park. Years ago I read an installment of this series for a challenge, a novel that was mostly set in Cuba. Although I liked it, I probably lost a lot not having read the series from its beginning, which is what I would usually do. This is a stand alone novel from Cruz Smith set in Venice at the close of the second World War.

Cenzo is a fisherman. He knows the canals inside out, knows the best time to fish for certain species, the best way. One night he pulls the body of a young girl out of the water and is almost immediately set upon by a German gunboat. They are searching for something but Cenzo’s dead body turns out to be very much an alive one and she is able to avoid detection. Giulia is an Italian Jew who had been hiding out with her family and other Jews until they were betrayed. Her family probably executed, she flees the Wehrmacht SS and Cenzo chooses to shelter Giulia, taking her back to his small shack and concealing her presence there as he goes about his usual routine in order to avoid suspicion in a time when everyone is suspicious of everyone else and everything. He then helps her escape through one of his rebel friends.

To be honest, the plot gets rather complicated from there and involves Cenzo’s movie star brother who comes to the village as leverage to force Cenzo to lead people to Giulia. Cenzo and his brother have some very troubled history involving an extra-marital affair and the death of their other brother. Half of the plot went over my head as Cenzo went with his brother and met random people and avoided others all in the search for Giulia. The war is coming to an end and there’s much focus on what Mussolini will do and what will happen to him. Most in the book are by now, disdainful of ‘Il Duce’, and much of the focus appears to be on his wife vs his mistress. I had a bit of trouble keeping track of who everyone was in the book and what their role was…..sometimes even why they were there.

Cenzo was really the most interesting character in this novel, an unlikely hero. For a simple fisherman he’s remarkably intelligent and sensitive, with a strong sense of moral self. He definitely has hidden depths – he’s also a former veteran having fought and flown a plane for his country in Africa. I enjoyed Cenzo’s journey and learning about him and the complicated family relationships he had. Cenzo’s game is a mental one rather than a physical one and I did find parts of what he did quite amusing, especially at the end with the plane. He was a very well fleshed out character and most enjoyable to read. I didn’t feel the same connection to Giulia, although I did very much sympathise with her story and the two of them did seem to be very suited. Despite the fact that the setting is romantic (even at times, with the threat of Germans and death) I wouldn’t exactly say there’s much romance. It’s definitely implied but with a lot of subtlety. The atmosphere was amazing though and I commend that.

I find this one quite difficult to judge….I liked it but at the same time, I’m not entirely sure I understood some of the complexities of the plots and the various groups that came into contact with one another. The character of Cenzo was definitely the highlight, his thoughtful manner and unexpected cleverness (seems he was underestimated by pretty much everyone that came into contact with him) were really well done.

6/10

Book #213 of 2016

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