Tuscan Roots by Angela Petch
When Anna’s mother dies she is left a pile of dusty diaries. It seems a shabby bequest compared to the house which her brother inherits, or the jewellery which is her sister’s legacy. But those diaries are going to endow Anna with all kinds of unforeseen riches as she travels to Tuscany to find out the truth about her parents’ wartime romance.
There is nothing like a bundle of old letters, a secret diary or a dusty old manuscript to get the imaginative juices flowing and this one certainly does not disappoint. It’s a riveting story and all the more interesting for being, I suspect, not that unusual after WW2, when war proved a catalyst for romance between people of different nationalities. In those cases, as here, the difficulties of melding languages and cultures, of one partner having to leave behind everything familiar to begin a new life in a strange land make for heart-rending human interest stories.
Tuscan Roots is told in two time-frames. 1999 sees Anna travel to her mother’s birthplace in the beautiful Tuscan mountains where, with the help of the local community she is able to translate and piece together the storyline of her parents’ courtship. The people she meets and the places she visits are vividly described - landscape colour and local kindness both make the setting powerfully attractive. This portion of the narrative is related in the present tense, which makes it immediate, as though the story is unfurling as we read, but this is not an easy thing to pull off.
Interleaved with Anna’s story are flashbacks to her mother’s diaries and also to some of her father’s wartime journal. The writer handles these changes in point of view very deftly and we get a very clear idea of the different characters. I especially enjoyed the more mature writings of Ines as she had to come to terms with the effect the war has had on her husband and the hard graft of marriage when the first flush of romance has died.
As you would expect, the denouement of both tales is the point when the past hits the present, and this came off brilliantly. What’s more, I happen to know there is a future, as I have read the sequel, ‘Now and Then in Tuscany’, also highly recommended.