To survive the Holocaust, a young Jewish woman must pose as a Christian farmer’s wife in this unforgettable novel — a story of terror, hope, love, and sacrifice, inspired by true events, that vividly evokes the most perilous days of World War II.
It is the autumn of 1943, and life is becoming increasingly perilous for Italian Jews like the Mazin family. With Nazi Germany now occupying most of her beloved homeland, and the threat of imprisonment and deportation growing ever more certain, Antonina Mazin has but one hope to survive — to leave Venice and her beloved parents and hide in the countryside with a man she has only just met.
Nico Gerardi was studying for the priesthood until circumstances forced him to leave the seminary to run his family’s farm. A moral and just man, he could not stand by when the fascists and Nazis began taking innocent lives. Rather than risk a perilous escape across the mountains, Nina will pose as his new bride. And to keep her safe and protect secrets of his own, Nico and Nina must convince prying eyes they are happily married and in love.
But farm life is not easy for a cultured city girl who dreams of becoming a doctor like her father, and Nico’s provincial neighbors are wary of this soft and educated woman they do not know. Even worse, their distrust is shared by a local Nazi official with a vendetta against Nico. The more he learns of Nina, the more his suspicions grow — and with them his determination to exact revenge.
As Nina and Nico come to know each other, their feelings deepen, transforming their relationship into much more than a charade. Yet both fear that every passing day brings them closer to being torn apart . . .
Jennifer Robson first learned about the Great War from her father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. A former copy editor, she holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from the University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and young children.
Nina is posing as Nico’s wife to hopefully escape the dangers that came with being a Jew in Europe during WW2. There was this constant feeling of anxiousness since Nina could have been caught at any time which would mean a lot of danger for her and the people close to her. Her life changes drastically as she has to learn to be a “wife” and even pose as a Christian. There were certain parts that made me angry…like it was supposed to. There were certain people in the book who were determined to bring Nico and Nina down, and Robson does a great job of using this to keep my attention
The theme of family was heavy on this one. During hard times like these, people make a lot of enemies and friends. This book illustrated this as Nina came to love a lot of people throughout the book. I wasn’t really engrossed in her and Nico’s relationship, but it definitely added an element to the story. There wasn’t that tension we usually get when people marry for other reasons other than love, but then I hit myself on the head because that is super insensitive for a WW2 book.
There are many WW2 and holocaust books out there and I didn’t feel like this necessarily stood out, but it was still a great book!!
Ugh. This was disappointing. I wanted to like this book, the premise was a bit different from the usual WWII historical fiction, being set in Italy, but it just got worse and worse for me as it dragged on.
The first half was interesting, however it quickly turned to an overly melodramatic and horribly predictable story, with the stereotypical characterizations of WWII “hero/heroine” and “horrid Nazis.” The heroine is the strong one trying to save the weaker ones, and horrid things happen to them, but she still has her soul, which she won’t let them take. Yada. Yada. Yada. Insert eye-roll.
Even the writing was formulaic, with the same descriptions and narratives found in typical novels of this type. There was no substance, it just felt like hundreds of other novels of this genre pieced together for the hype of a WWII novel, but there was no passion in the story; nothing in it felt real or believable.
In the beginning I would have given this 4 stars. It moved to 3 halfway through. Given enough eye rolls it went down to 2, if not for the first half, it probably would have gone down to 1 unfortunately.
It was a great premise, but sadly went to contrived, theatrical blather, that was piled on way too thick instead of an original story with characters I might have actually cared about.
It is no secret Our Darkest Night is a book I’ve been excited to read since I read the very first teaser. Jennifer Robson’s, The Gown, was one of my favorite books of 2018, and I’m a big fan.
Set in Italy, Our Darkest Night is the story of Antonia (Nina) Mazin, an Italian Jew who must post as a Christian farmer’s wife by marrying Nico Gerardi, who has been studying to be a priest before his circumstances change. Nina’s only hope of survival is for everyone to be convinced she is who she says she is and happily married.
Eventually their feelings for each other begin to grow, just as the terror becomes even closer to their life together.
Oh my gosh, I love Nico, and I love Nina, and I love this story. These are such warmhearted, loving characters. What would you do had you been in Nico’s shoes? Would you risk your own life to save another? This story captures this heartbreaking and dark time in history with authentic-feeling characters and an inspiring story. The author’s note is not to be missed because the story is inspired by her own family. Highly recommended for hist fic fans, especially of this time period.
Epic! A young Jewish Italian woman has a hero -- her father. When the Nazi threat forces her to hide in the country, she meets the new hero of her story. Nina and Nico's story is heartbreaking and hopeful. The two of them are borne up by their faith in their God and in each other. There were many times when this book drove me to tears for the plight of people like them. For the suffering and humiliation that was heaped upon them. Despite the inhumane treatment all around, Nico and men like him honored their fellow human beings while at the same time recognizing the evil that had to be eradicated. This story is personal to Jennifer Robson and you can see her high regard for her characters. Beautifully done and highly recommended.
Venice 1943, Dr Gabriele Mazin is extremely concerned for his daughters Antonina’s safety and he makes plans for her to leave Venice. He’s friends with father Bernardi a priest and he knows a young man living in his remote parish in Mezzo Ciels who will help Nina and he trusts him. Nico Gerardi had been studying to be a priest and he left the seminary to help on his family’s busy farm. He’s a very honest and caring man who’s willing to pretend he’s married to Antonina to keep her safe, she leaves Venice behind and moves to the country with her new husband.
When Nina leaves her father and mother behind in Venice it's one of the hardest things she has ever had to do. The newlyweds arrive at the farm, Nico’s twin sister Rosa isn’t happy that he’s left seminary, his wife hasn’t got a clue about helping on the farm and housework. Nina is miserable, she misses her parents, her sister in-law thinks she’s useless and she has to pretend to be Catholic and attend church.
Things are worse when Karl Zwerger arrives he’s a nasty Nazi official he doesn’t like Nico and he’s determined to make his life as miserable as possible. When he finds out about his new bride, he questions Nina about her past, the couples courtship and of course how she met her husband? Nina and Nico get to know each other; they develop feelings for each other and Nina becomes close to the whole Gerardi family. Nina’s very concerned about the possibility of Italian Jews being sent to camps, when this begins and Nina is really worried about her parents.
Our Darkest Night is a story about life in Italy during WW II, how hard it was for Jewish people and they were treated terribly by the Nazi’s. Thousands died from being persecuted during the Holocaust and also from disease, starvation and being sent to work in Germany. Inspired by true events it’s a story about sacrifice, family, loss, despair, friendship, love, hope and Jennifer Robson’s books never disappoint. I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review; I highly recommend reading Our Darkest Night and five stars from me. https://karrenreadsbooks.blogspot.com/
This remarkable book, out for just over a week now, tells of Nico and Nina, who must pose as a married couple in World War II Italy in order for her to hide from the Nazis and soon that their feelings are not a charade. Do not miss it!
This was such a gorgeous historical romance! Set during WW2 in Italy, Antonia and her father are in Venice. They are Jewish and have had their rights and property seized by Nazi laws. Antonia’s father is a doctor who is forbidden to practice, and Antonia has been training with him in secret. They are unable to flee to safety because Antonia’s mother is ill and unable to travel. When Nazi forces close in, her father sends her away with Nico, a young man in the seminary in training to be a priest who offers to hide her on his family farm. I loved how this love story slowly blossomed in the simple story of survival on the farm, of the dark, harrowing days of WW2, and of getting to know Nico’s family. This was a lovely, sweet romance and I’ll definitely be reading more by this author.
Please excuse typos/name misspellings. Entered on screen reader.
Our Darkest Night begins in Venice, Italy, 1942. As Jews, Antonina (Nina) Mazin and her parents realize that they are no longer safe as more and more of their freedoms are being taken away. Antonina's beloved father was no longer allowed to practice medicine and it was clear that it was only a matter of time before all Jews would be expelled from Italy. Her father and his friend Father Bernardi advise Antonina that they have arranged for her to move to the countryside pretending to be the new wife of Nico Gerardi, a young Catholic farmer. She agrees while knowing that she might never see her parents again. She realizes that this plan offers her a good chance of survival.
As Nina (her name in hiding) settles into life on the farm with Nico’s large family, she lives in constant fear of having her secret uncovered. This danger is heightened by ongoing inspections by SS officials. This extremely moving book shows both the generosity and kindness of people who were willing to risk their own lives to save others as well as the extreme cruelty of those who lost all compassion and feeling committing the most horrendous atrocities. Our Darkest Night has a lot of heart but it doesn’t sugarcoat what occurred either. You’ll become fully invested in Nina and Nico’s lives and struggles.
It is now over 75 years since the end of WWII and the horrors of the Holocaust. There are very few survivors still alive to tell their stories. We are fortunate that there are talented authors like Jennifer Robson who choose to do extensive research and write about this period in history. Hopefully there will continue to be large numbers of readers who will want to read the many different stories and perspectives, most inspired by real people, to insure that what occurred will always be remembered.
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Thank you William Morrow publishers. Jennifer Robson is one of my favorite authors. I have read all her books and Our Darkest Night did not disappoint. It's a novel of Italy during WW2. I could not put it down. Highy recommend if you like historical fiction. Jennifer is truly a gifted writer.
In Our Darkest Night, Jennifer Robson paints a vivid picture of the Italian countryside, and has written a unique portrayal of one large Italian farm family living and surviving during the time of Hitlers regime. It’s fantastic.
The racial laws of 1938 expelled Antonina (Nina) Mazin and every other Jewish student in Italy from school. She continues studying her Papa’s medical textbooks at home, and makes patient rounds alongside him hoping to someday become a doctor.
In 1943 with the imposing threat of the deportation and imprisonment of Jews in Venice, her Papa and Father Bernardi arrange for Nina to leave the city with Niccolo Gerardi. Nico is a close friend of Father Bernardi, a stranger to Nina. Nina will be in hiding, posing as a catholic, married to a farmer and prior priest, Nico. They will be living at Nico’s family farm on the outskirts of Mezo Ciel, Father Gerardi’s hometown.
Nina had never met a man as kind and decent as her father, but she sees that in Nico. Their feelings deepen and they are soon expecting a child.
In 1944 the German’s seize Mezo Ciel.
A bully from Nico’s past at the seminary, Karl Zwerger now a Nazi officer, appears in the piazzo of Mezo Ciel to arrest Nico for being a partisan. Shouting out into the crowd, Zwerger threatens Nico’s entire family if he doesn’t turn himself in. He does, and is taken away. Nina too is arrested soon after giving birth to their daughter.
I was immediately drawn into this heart wrenching and emotional story, fearing for their safety and holding on to the hope of Nina reconnecting with her daughter. Jennifer Robson has this special way of immersing readers into her storyline and its setting, for that’s why I’ve loved all her books. Our Darkest Night centers around romance, family, faith, and survival, and it ends in a spectacular way that made me enjoy it even more. Rating all the stars.
Antonina's father had been planning how to protect her for a while since the Germans had invaded Italy and were starting to take Jewish people to camps.
His plan was to have Antonina pretend she was married to Nico.
Antonina didn't like the idea of leaving with a stranger and leaving her father and mother, but Nico was very nice and had a wonderful family who welcomed her as his wife. Well everyone but his sister, Rosa, but Rosa came to love Nina.
Rosa was angry because Nico was to be a priest and this girl took him from the priesthood. They wished they could tell everyone they really weren't married, but it was too risky. Someone may tell on them.
I became immersed in the family’s hardworking life and the wonder and joy of the simple life they led and their care for each other.
Of course they had to be concerned about the Nazi officers who stopped by and to worry that someone would find out Nina actually was Jewish.
You will fall in love with Nina and Nico and feel Nina's pain as she tries to fit in and learn how to be a Catholic.
You will actually become fond of each family member, feel their pain as well as their happiness, and want to be part of their loving family.
As in all WWII books along with the beauty and the strength of the people, there is death and cruelty.
The beauty of family and caring citizens will pull you into this marvelously written, well-researched book and help ease the horror of what was going on.
Do not miss this book. 5/5
This book was given to me by the publisher via Goodreads in exchange for an honest review.
This is a difficult book to review. In this case, it's because it was a clear passion project for the author. In the afterword, she describes how the story is directly inspired from her family history (her husband's family may have sheltered refugees in WWII, and the priest in the town in which they lived was recognized by Yad Vashem for his role in protecting Jews during the Holocaust).
The main issue is that nearly every aspect of the novel - particularly the characters - is so shallowly drawn, they feel more like archetypes than real people. The female lead is brave and strong; her love interest is decent and loving; and the Nazi villain is more or less twirling his mustache every time he appears on the page. There are some characters that hint at complexity (particularly Rosa, the heroine's "sister-in-law"), but are not given any real development or arc beyond eventually realizing how amazing the main character is. The early parts of the novel where the two main characters first connect, and the heroine struggles with her new rural life, had a lot of potential; however, their insta-love has no real build up and so the payoff seems perfunctory at best.
The writing was overall just okay - some of the weak characterizations could be overlooked if the writing was stronger, but it's mostly just dialogue and some inner thoughts of the main character. Maybe this would have worked better as a screenplay?
I'm not Jewish (or Catholic for that matter) so I don't want to comment too much on the religious aspects of the book. However, I will note that as an outsider, this topic did appear to be handled sensitively and problematic aspects (like that found in For Such a Time) are avoided here.
Our Darkest Night is perhaps my favourite Jennifer Robson book to date and I have read all her novels. This historical fiction was beautifully written, I was drawn to all the characters and I came away with a better understanding of the experience of Italy's Jewish population during the war.
We have Antonia(Nina), the only child of a successful doctor and his wife. As the story opens, Nina's mother has suffered a stroke and has been placed in a care home while her father decides to teach her about medicine. When a friend of her father's, a Catholic priest sends word that the Jewish population is now being rounded up, her father makes a decision for Nina's future. Soon a young Italian man named Nico arrives to assist Nina and smuggle her out of Venice. Originally destined for the priesthood, Nico decides that he will help Nina's journey to his village and that they will masquerade as husband and wife. But fooling the villagers and Nico's family is not the couple's most dangerous task, especially when a member of the secret police becomes suspicious of Nina. And he will stop at nothing to find out the truth.
Jennifer Robson is one of my favourite writers and even though I will be the first to admit that I am exhausted by WWII era fiction, I just couldn't resist this book. Blame it all on the well-developed characterization and a story that just grabbed my heart.
4.5 STARS - I have been a fan of Canadian author Jennifer Robson since I read and adored her book The Gown two years ago. When I heard she had a new book coming out set in Italy during WWII, preordering this book was a no brainer for me. I simply had to have it in my greedy little Bookworm hands.
Inspired by true events, Our Darkest Night is a Historical Fiction story centred around a young Jewish woman and the lengths she, her loved ones and even perfect strangers went to in order to keep her safe from the Nazi regime. The first half of the book is slower paced as we get to know Nina, Nico and his family and witness what life was like for Italians living in more provincial settings during the war. The second half begins with a gut-wrenching scene that quite literally took my breath away. This scene pivots the book into a darker perspective of the war and Robson doesn't shy away from detailing the atrocities inflicted against Jews and those who attempted to aid them.
Our Darkest Night is a good blend of history, family, and romance. I appreciate how Robson gives her readers a different perspective of the war, setting her story in a rural part of Italy during the occupation to show what life was like for small communities who may not have been on the war front, but who were not exempt from Nazi influence and abuse. I strongly suggest readers read the author's notes at the end of the book where she talks about her inspiration and her detailed research for this novel and how, by using her husband's Italian roots, she was able to give an authenticity to her rural Italian setting.
There is a sweet romance within these pages, but the relationships that stood out the most for me were the close bonds of Nico's family. I sympathized with Nina and Nico and their unique situation, but I wouldn't call this a character-driven read. I would have loved to get inside their relationship and each of their heads a bit more - particularly Nico's feelings, details about his covert work as well as the POVs of a few of Nico's family members.
This is a well-researched and moving story. Feelings of hopelessness, fear, perseverance, and love are conveyed well to the reader and are balanced with historical detail. I read this book in one day and I went through the emotional gamut. Parts of this book made me sad, parts made me smile and parts made me so unbelievably angry. In the end, this is a story about family, sacrifice, endurance, and hope. In a time when evil, fear and desperation were rampant, Robson shows how the generosity and small kindnesses of strangers can be found in even the darkest of times.
"Then we endure, and we remind ourselves to hope, and one day we wake and the weight of it is a little less."
This was an emotional book. One not necessarily character driven, but one that deals with the effects of war on a family, on a life and on one's ability to hope.
World War II can be a difficult subject matter to write about. It's a history that's well known but extremely emotional in its telling. Finding a way to immerse new, fictional characters into a narrative that real people lived and making it believable and memorable is a tough task. While I believe the author did a good job of the first task, I feel the book fell short in the latter. Antonina "Nina" Mazin and Niccolo "Nico" Gerardi were likable characters, but they lacked depth. While I felt for them, sympathized with their struggles and smiled at their joys I never was connected to them. It seemed almost as if I were watching a documentary. To me this is the best way to describe the feeling of reading this book. You see the characters lives, come to know and understand them a little but there's distance. It isn't the intimate picture normally given in a book. Nina and Nico's romance didn't feel fully developed enough to be as deep as it was portrayed in the book and while I loved his family, I found later in the story that I knew very little about them individually. This kept me separated from the story in the sense that while I cared about what happened to the characters, there was less weight to the moments for me because I felt like I barely knew them.
The impact of this book came from the portrayal of the unfolding war and it's effect on the Gerardi family. To me that was the main point of the book. To show the perspective of a simple, hardworking life of a family that loved each other and how they were all changed by war. We go through the motions with Nina and Nico as they grow closer, she begins to meld in with his family and then persecution begins, first together and then separately. I think the best part of this book was that it showed war's slow progression. Things didn't happen all at once for circumstances to become terrible. Harrowing events stole away piece after piece of the family's normal daily life until they were confronted with the ugliness and brutality of what they were facing.
Nina's wrestling throughout the story until the end of keeping hope in the midst of utter despair is one thing I did appreciate about this book. Her ability to look past present pain and be determined to reach towards the future, towards hope, is something I could appreciate about her. One thing I do wish is that the author would've shown both sides. We see Nina's side of the difficulties and while her's and Nico's may have looked similar, it felt like the story was missing something when Nico was gone for good portions of the book and then back near the end to wrap things up quickly. But the ending itself I felt like needed to be expanded upon. While this whole book was simply from the perspective of this one woman and her life with this family I would've liked more expounding on everything that was going on. The wrap up at the end felt a little too clean cut for all that had happened.
The writing for this book was good, I just felt the author needed to develop the characters themselves more and add even a bit of filler so we can be further invested in their lives. Things like scenes between Nico and Nina after they're together. They talk of being deeply in love but the jump from stranger to lover seemed quick when it's read. They needed more small, sweet moments for their strong love to be believable. Also, further detail on the father, Aldo and the siblings. While I know who they are, I don't know their personalities beyond Carlo and why I should care for them, they're merely parts of the story to fit as side characters. Fleshing them out would put weight to Nico's love for his family and their care for Nina. I did like the pacing of the book up until the end as I mentioned above. The book was somewhat laidback until it got to about 60% in and then things started to happen. Unfortunately then there was a lot of peril and plot to fit in until the ending and to me this made a lot of very impactful and weighty material seem to fly by too fast. To me it would've been better to either have Nina's ordeal start earlier or end it sooner and deal with the themes of recovery to finish out the ending.
Overall this was an enjoyable read. The book was easy to get through and I believe the author really did her work on the background of the war and its effects on the community of Italian Jews. A good read for someone who likes World War II fiction, suspense and stories about the bonds of family, love and hope.
– I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book I received for free through Netgalley from William Morrow and Custom House. All thoughts and opinions are my own. –
A WWII book set in Italy that will steal your heart and break it while leaving you filled with hope as you turn the last page. Our Darkest Night was this month’s #candidbabesbookclub read. I don’t read too much historical fiction but this book completely captured me. I do tend to enjoy WWII fiction and having this book set in Italy was wonderful bc it offered a different perspective from the many books set in Germany. Nico and Nina’s story was gripping. They had such strength individually and together their bond was simply beautiful. Inspired by true events from the author’s husband’s family the story is seeped in emotions like sacrifice & loss, family, friendship, love and ultimately hope. I dare you to read this book and not lose your heart to it. It was impossible to remain unaffected by the bravery of the characters, especially knowing that people put their lives and families on the line to save Jews during this horrific and heartbreaking time in history. Needless to say, I was wholly invested in these characters and this story. The book is beautifully written and I couldn’t put it down. A huge thank you to William Morrow and Book Club Girl for providing the book.
This is Nico and Nina’s love story set during a time of terror and turmoil in the world.
Nina is Jewish, her mother is in a hospice. Her father is a doctor who has been forbidden to work by the Nazis. His best friend is a Catholic priest, Father Bernardi (based on real life Father Oddo Stocco).
As it becomes more dangerous for Jews in Venice Nina’s father and Father Bernardi devise a plan to get Nina to safety.
Well known to Father Bernardi Nico was studying to be a priest but has left the seminary in order to help his family on their farm. Father Bernardi, Nico and Nina’s father have arranged for Nina and Nico to pretend to be married so he can take her to his family farm far away from the city.
While Nina is not happy with this absurd plan, not wanting to leave her parents, she goes along finding herself in a tiny farming village far from city life, the only life she has ever known.
She has to adapt, she has to learn the ways of the farm and get used to Nico’s large family all while keeping the secret that she is Jewish and they really are not married.
In the close confines of family life on the farm and Nina and Nico pretending to be wed, sharing a room and a bed, it is not a stretch that love will find a way. And it does.
At one point Nina discovers that Nico and his family are engaged in helping Jews trying to flee across the border with the help of Father Bernardi. And eventually the Nazis will find their way to this remote village. What then?
This is a love story about sacrifice, struggle and survival during WWII.
I love historical fiction. The subject matter in this novel is particularly close to my heart. As the granddaughter of a partisan and the great-granddaughter of a man who lost his life fighting against the Fascists, I'm extremely trepidatious when these are stories are written by middle aged, white, Anglo women. Don't start on me about creative license. I've touched the scars of the people who lived this experience, I grew up with the intergenerational trauma that was a result for many who lost so much. I demand authenticity. That said, Jennifer Robson did her homework. She married into a family that served as inspiration for this book. She interviewed older relatives and survivors, searched archives. She's an accomplished scholar. It's abundantly clear that she wanted to properly represent the culture she was writing about. For me, the best part of the book was the afterword.
Research and intent aside, I didn't love the writing or characters so much. The plot itself was cliché. Nina, Jewish woman, is sent into hiding with Catholic farmer where she has to pose as his wife. The bad guy, of course, is an evil German (Austrian, technically, like his pal, Hitler). I couldn't get behind his motives. He's coming to terrorize a man in a teeny tiny town in rural Italy because of a high school transgression? I kept waiting for him to twirl his moustache and tie Nina to a railroad track.
The first 120 pages of the book are really slow moving. Long chapters filled with descriptions of chores. It feels like Robson is trying to give an accurate picture of farm life but the pages and pages read like a to do list. Where are the townspeople? The extended family that is mentioned in passing? Despite the fact that she is a Jewish woman posing as a Catholic farmer's wife, there seems to be little at stake, until boom! Big bad Nazis! No mention of a German presence in the town prior.
The biggest oversight in all of this was the lack of a Fascist presence. This was not just a German invasion, there were Italians on the inside facilitating the Italian Social Republic. The country was at war with each other yet there's no mention at all of the black shirts. No mention of neighbours pitted against neighbour, the many who collaborated with the Nazis. They were just as much as a threat. No mention at all of the Fascist puppet state.
The plight of the Italian Jews was harrowing, and some of that is expressed in Nina's journey through different concentration/labour camps. Overall, though, I thought the book was banal, predictable and saccharine. The visit from her dad, but he doesn't answer her question about Nico in the after life. She sees his dead body but not his face, but the author makes sure to beat us over the head with the fact that those are his clothes. Even the reunion with the lover she thought was dead felt like it was written for the Hallmark Anniversary of WWII week. Contrived with awkward dialogue, "We both had a bad time of it". You were in a death camp, you think?? And upon their return home, instead of racing home to see the child who was ripped from her nursing bosom, Nina ponders if they should stop in and have tea with the local priest. Wait? What?
Anyway, everybody lived, even the dog who was shot at by a Nazi. They don't lose the farm. The end. Well researched but poorly told.
A gripping tale of devastation, love, and hope set during the darkest days of the Second World War, "Our Darkest Night" takes readers on a shocking journey through war torn Italy all the way to the chilling brutalities happening in Poland. The story is based on the lives of Ms Robson's husband's ancestors, and the author's passion for the story and love of the people come alive in her beautifully crafted characters, all of whom must become so much stronger than they ever believed they could be. Jennifer Robson's books are always a delight, giving readers so much in both story and history.
While I felt that it had a bit of a slow start, halfway through I couldn't put it down. I have rarely read about Italy's Jews, and found the homecoming story a bit different from others I've read . Jennifer Robson does such a good job of including things that make the reader feel as though they are there in the moment
When my OC Books and Brunch book club won a year of book club books from William Morrow and Book Club Girl, I could not contain my excitement. One of my goals this year is to read genres I don’t usually read, and book club is the perfect way to do it. Our January choice was Our Darkest Night (my first historical fiction, gasp!). I usually don’t read romance, and NEVER read historical fiction, so this was a first for me.
Our Darkest Night is about Nina, a Jewish woman who tries to escape the Nazis by pretending to be married to Nico, a Christian farmer. Her father arranges for her to escape the city, so she shows up with him to his farm one day, telling his family they got married. Farm life is hard for Nina, and it is harder still to lie to Nico’s family, who she is growing to care for. When they catch the eye of a suspicious Nazi officer, Nina and Nico try to figure out what to do to protect their family and each other.
Thoughts: I found the writing in this book to be beautiful and I could imagine myself in 1943 Italy. The story is interesting and heartbreaking, especially because, though fiction, it mirrors many stories that survivors of the Holocaust faced. Unfortunately, the book was slow, and instead of having you feel or grow with the characters, the book basically laid out what was going on. I loved learning about Nico’s family, but my favorite character was Stella. The parts of the story that included her and Nina were some of my favorites, while simultaneously being the most heartbreaking.
The book took an ordinary, hard-working family’s story and showed the pain and love and suffering they went through. The story captured everyday life, and compared the mundane tasks of a farm with the electrifying fear of running for your life. This story showed the power of hope and family, but I do wish there was more character development in the story. It seemed that everyone stayed the same, and I would have liked to hear more about the supporting characters in this story. Nevertheless, this was a powerful topic and I enjoyed the read. 3.5 stars!
📚 Hello Book Friends! I have read and seen many historical novels set in Italy during WWII. I appreciate the insights they offer on the war in these parts of the world. OUR DARKEST NIGHT by Jennifer Robson gives us a glimpse of what happened to Italian Jewish families in Venice in those difficult times. It also reveals the kindness of a Christian man and how he saves the life of one young Jewish woman. You will embark on Antonina’s journey to safety, you will witness her loss, her gain, her survival. This book is about courage, love, determination, family, and survival. If you love historical novels, this one is for you.
It was hard to pinpoint what drew me into this WWII historical fiction though I completed the story within 24 hours. The entire story took place in Italy and that in itself was refreshing.
I thought it was a gentle romance between two unlikely characters. It built up slowly. It also helped that Nico’s family was engaging and the various characters pushed the plot along.
The ugliness surrounding the war was vivid and at the same time dreamlike. I knew some of the horrors described were gruesome but I never felt the intenseness that I expected. That might have not been a bad thing because if it was too straightforward I might have been put off.
Lastly, and I know this is strange because the plots were so different, but I kept thinking of Ann Creels’ The Magic of Ordinary Days.
It pains me to say that I found this book to be a big hot mess. Although the writing was always problematic, at the halfway point all hope of redemption for the contrived story and for the subpar writing collapsed. I kept reading based solely on the excellent reviews from other readers, hoping for improvement. I realize I'm clearly in the minority on this one. I'm sure the fact that I had just finished another excellent book by Alice Hoffman brought comparisons between her beautifully crafted sentences and Robson's stilted sentences. I could elaborate on the many issues I have with the story, but I just don't see the point. I'm glad so many readers enjoyed the book, but for me it was a huge disappointment!
1943- A heartwarming story about a Jewish girl who must flee Venice leaving her parents behind. This is what her father needs her to do as things become difficult for her people.
Antonina agrees to pose as a Christian and a wife to Nico to help him run his family farm in the country. He left his studies to become a priest so he can run the farm.
Nico has his own secrets and will keep Antonina safe. They must convince neighbors and other people they are truly man and wife. There is a Nazi official who starts asking questions and shows interest in her.
Can they both convince everyone they are married? Do they fall in love? They are a beacon of hope in desperate times.
This was my first novel by Jennifer Robson, and I am starting her “The Great War” series next! I love discovering new to me historical fiction authors. These are been on my bookshelf for awhile and I am challenging myself to read my TBR pile.
Like all of the best stories, Our Darkest Night was born from a question: who were the survivors of those forced into hiding and how could a Gentile write their story from their point of view? The title is an overarching theme of many dark nights beginning with the first on which a family of refugees has just arrived and is being sequestered in the attic at the same time two drunk German soldiers burst into the house hungry and horny. Pacifist would-be priest Nico is compelled to kill them both and the chapter concludes with the question, “Whenever I close my eyes, I see that night… All that blood, Nina. How will I ever wash it away?”
“The day I left Venice was one of the worst days of my life… I had to say goodbye to my mother and father, to my home, to everything that was familiar and comfortable and safe. It was truly awful — and yet one part of it was good. The part when I met you.” For author Jennifer Robson, the heart and soul of this novel belongs to Nina, “the family she had lost, the family she had been given, and the love story that had led her home to a place called Mezzo Ciel.”
For reader Jennifer Erickson (me), the novel’s hero is Father Bernardi, who represents the modern-day men and women who continue to “stare evil in the face and steadfastly refuse to look away.” My favorite scene is Father Bernardi’s confession to Nina, “Your love for Nico, and his for you, was meant to be. Some might call it fate. I prefer to think of it as an instance of grace...your love for him, and the strength you gain from that bond, will continue to exist--no matter how long you are separated, and no matter how distant you are from one another. Your love lives on.”
They go on to recite Song of Solomon together: “Those were the words that sustained me on those long nights when I couldn’t sleep. When I’d forgotten how to hope.” Those are the words that usher in the birth of Nico and Nina’s baby daughter Lucia. “A reminder, I suppose, that we must look for light in the darkness...It’s no great secret. We rise at dawn and we do our work and we live our lives...Then we endure, and we remind ourselves to hope, and one day we wake and the weight of it is a little less.” Father Bernardi’s wisdom in World War Two Italy rings just as true for our worldwide viral pandemic today.
As Nico so eloquently expresses, “The stars are bright and you are in my arms…No matter where I am...near or far...you are the one who brightens my dreams. You were the one who paints the sky with stardust.” Our Darkest Night delivers--and deserves--a constellation!
Five plus stars for this heart wrenching read! It is a a definite page turner, filled with descriptive passages, emotions and facts. The characters became very real to me. This has been my most favourite read so far for 2021! This novel is a must read for those who love historical fiction novel.📚📚
From devastating lows to dizzying highs, Robson takes the reader on a fraught, compelling, emotional journey. In spite of the horrors, great beauty can be found in both the settings and the characters. OUR DARKEST NIGHT is a testament to the power of true and abiding love, and the strength and grace that comes from it. Highly recommended!