Sunday, August 05, 2007

"No matter how dark the tapestry

God weaves for us, there's always a thread of grace"

~Hebrew saying

In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me—and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

~Pastor Martin Niemoller

Although sometimes more good can be done by staying quiet. Not staying quiet in complicity; but remaining silent in defiance and working behind the scenes to help hide those who are in danger in the tradition of the, by now, well known Oskar Schindler, or an almost entire nation of good-hearted and brave Italians who sheltered almost fifty thousand Jews.

I remember hearing Mary Doria Russell come to speak about A Thread of Grace before i had ever read the novel. I had loved her previous works The Sparrow and Children of God and when i met her i was actually fawning all over her (something rather atypical of me~i was more than a little embarrassed~but she is an alumna of one of my schools, AND she says librarians are some of her favorite people...), but i had her sign a copy of the book and was quite excited to read it, after hearing Russell talking about it, though i never got around to it until now.

This is an incredible novel. It tells the story of a number of very human, very fallible characters involved in the Nazi occupation of Italy (much of the action is set in Liguria~if you are ever making pesto you must, must, must use Ligurian olive oil {i recommend the Roi brand} in my ever so humble opinion but also in the more expert opinion of Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's~and if you think olive oils are all the same you have never tasted real quality olive oil~believe me it's worth the price) in the later stages of World War II. It will break your heart (and for the youth of today who think they're living in the worst of times~i even heard America referred to as a third world country the other day~go live in a third world country for a while, then say that...~here's a taste of some other times but it will also restore your faith in humanity. It brought back memories of my first stepmother's mother. An Italian Mama from the old world, she had a huge old house and farm in Modesto, California. I remember going to visit hear there and being served wonderful, huge meals (she would always want me to eat "more, more, more" because i was such "an ittie, bit of a thing".) She insisted i call her "Nonna" (and she was my Nonna~my only one, even though i had two other grandmothers) and would pull me into her lap, and put her arms around me and i would feel so much love from her. Her house and yard would always be full of people and there would always be room for more. I miss her, i will always remember her.

Thanks to her, i understand Italian hospitality and that's what this book is full of. If it seems a bit too idealistic, there is documented history to back it up (and soon, documents will be all we have to go by, as we loose more and more survivors each day...) It is a beautiful narrative that lingers in the mind, in the heart, in the soul; like a song whose coda keeps repeating and will not, cannot, let that final note rest.

When racial hatred raged in Europe,

Jewish refugees, uncertain of their fate,

coming from distant countries

--Austria, Belgium, Germany, Poland--

found hospitality and safety in these valleys.

Hidden in isolated cottages,

protected by the population,

they waited with trust and hope,

through two interminable winters,

for the return of liberty.

In homage to and in memory of those who helped them,

those refugees and their descendants

embrace the noble inhabitants of these valleys

in brotherhood.

~inscription chiseled in marble memorial stela erected in Borgo San Dalmazzo, 1998 by the Jews of Saint-Martin-Vesubie in honor of the people of Valle Stura and Valle Gesso.

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