Novelist Jennifer Robson does not spare readers a bit of horror in her new book, Our Darkest Night: A Novel of Italy and the Second World War (William Morrow). As she has demonstrated in Somewhere in France, Goodnight From London and The Gown, Robson has a predilection for placing indomitable young women in the treacherous theater of war. A historian with a doctorate from Oxford, she relies upon personal recollections as well as conventional academic sources, which gives her work special vitality.

Our Darkest Night opens in Venice in October 1942 as we meet the first few characters in a large, truly unforgettable cast: a young woman, Antonina Mazin; her father, an eminent physician; her beloved mother, who resides in a nursing home; and Father Bernardi, a Catholic priest and longtime friend of the Mazins.
As Antonina hurries home from visiting her mother, across the famous piazza to the entrance to the Ghetto Novo, where Venice’s Jewish community had largely been consigned since the 16th century, she is aware of the danger that her small family faces. German occupation of Italy is inevitable, and so is the deportation by the Nazis of the few hundred Jews who inhabit the Ghetto. But it is Antonina’s father who, with Father Bernardi, devises a plan of action.

One year later, Antonina will flee to safety with a young Catholic man, traveling mostly on foot to his family’s home in the countryside forty miles northwest of Venice. Now officially Nina, she is married to Niccolo Gerardi, an arrangement blessed by Nina’s parents — whom she may never see again — and Father Bernardi. He and Niccolo are in the business of rescuing and hiding Jews from German soldiers. Nina and Nico, as her new husband is known, will share a bed and feign intimacy. Terrified of discovery, they do not even let Nico’s family in on the secret.

Expecting to blend into the small farming town of Mezzo Ciel, Nina unhappily finds Nico’s sister hostile and the neighbors leery of a city girl. As Nina and Nico fall in love, these obstacles matter less. But the couple cannot ignore the specter of a local Nazi official, Karl Zwerger, a terrifyingly persistent former schoolmate of Nico’s who suspects that the story of Nina’s past, and how the two met and married, has been fabricated. As the war continues, even with an Allied victory in sight, Zwerger will harass Nina, hounding her until the unthinkable happens. Preoccupied with saving Jews and partisans, Nico realizes too late the danger that awaits both of them.

Our Darkest Night is a love story, but not an easy one. In illuminating the fate of Italy’s Jews during World War II, it demands that readers reckon with the horror of the 20th century in an intricately constructed story of hope and courage.


RELATED POSTS

A Gorgeous Distraction in Time of Turmoil: Q&A With Jennifer Robson About The Gown

Prostitute, Murderer, Spy? Family Matriarch Shares Her Shocking WWII Involvement in Black Forest

Cilka’s Journey Is a Beacon of Hope Amid One of History’s Darkest Epochs

Buy this book!

Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and #1 Toronto Globe & Mail bestselling author of Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris. She holds a doctorate from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto with her husband and young children.