by Kristy Cambron
A prima ballerina. Two American medics. And a young Jewish girl with no name . . . At the height of the Nazi occupation of Rome, an unlikely band of heroes comes together to save Italian Jews in this breathtaking World War II novel based on real historical events.
Rome, 1943. With the fall of Italy’s Fascist government and the Nazi regime occupying the streets of Rome, British ballerina Julia Bradbury is stranded and forced to take refuge at a hospital on Tiber Island.
But when she learns of a deadly sickness that is sweeping through the quarantine wards—a fake disease known only as Syndrome K—she is drawn into one of the greatest cons in history. Alongside hospital staff, friars of the adjoining church, and two Allied medics, Julia risks everything to rescue Italian Jews from the deadly clutches of the Holocaust. But when one little girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina arrives at their door, Julia and the others are determined to reunite the young dancer with her family—if only she would reveal one crucial secret: her name.
Present Day. With the recent loss of her grandfather—a beloved small-town doctor and WWII veteran—Delaney Coleman returns home to help her aging parents, even as she struggles to pick up the pieces of her own life. When a mysterious Italian woman claims she owns one of the family’s precious heirlooms, Delaney is compelled to uncover what’s true of her grandfather’s hidden past. Together with the woman’s skeptical but charming grandson, Delaney learns of a Roman hospital that saved hundreds of Jewish people during the war. Soon, everything Delaney thought she knew about her grandfather comes into question as she wrestles with the possibility that the man she’d revered all her life had unknown ties to Rome and may have taken noble secrets to his grave.
Based on true accounts of the invented Syndrome K sickness, The Italian Ballerina journeys from the Allied storming of the beaches at Salerno to the London ballet stage and the war-torn streets of WWII Rome, exploring the sometimes heart-wrenching choices we must make to find faith and forgiveness, and how saving just one life can impact countless others.
After seeing plenty of recommendations for Kristy Cambron’s books, I was eager to read one of her novels and was excited when I received an e-ARC of The Italian Ballerina. And while I don’t consider myself an expert in historical fiction, after reading The Italian Ballerina, it’s easy to see why Cambron is frequently recommended.
The Italian Ballerina takes place against the backdrop of WWII Italy (with the present-day timeline having the characters unravel what happened during WWII) and shows the story behind Syndrome K. But it’s not a story about Syndrome K. It really is a story about the characters, whom you grow to love as you read the book. After all, Syndrome K isn’t actually introduced into the plot until around the midpoint of the book. But if you’re like me, you don’t mind. Because you want to know the stories about these characters.
If you struggle with reading multiple story timelines, The Italian Ballerina probably isn’t a book for you. Cambron juggles several timelines, some of which follow the same POV characters. But all of the timelines are needed. So just pay attention to what the year is. It can be a little confusing if you’re reading too fast, but the multiple timelines let the story unfold in a unique way and help showcase the character growth. And Cambron keeps all of the timelines engaging.
Since I’ve already mentioned the characters, I’ll talk about them next. The Italian Ballerina has three POV characters–Court, Juila, and Del-and an only slightly larger ensemble cast. All of the characters were well written and given distinct voices. I could tell when I was reading a chapter in Court’s POV right away. And all of the characters struggles were also done well and made the characters relatable.
Reading about Syndrome K was super neat. I honestly don’t think I knew about Syndrome K until I learned about The Italian Ballerina. Learning about new events is one of the things I love about reading historical fiction,.
The Italian Ballerina was a very enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading more by Kristy Cambron in the future.
Cautions: non-graphic war-time violence; several kisses; moderate romance; a couple has a child before they’re married; brief mention of a character attempting to seduce another character in the past
*I received an e-ARC from Thomas Nelson through Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.*