Wednesday, March 3, 2010

a woman's capacity to love

Niki Bruce reviews Tuscan Rose, historical fiction with a touch of magic realism.  

BELINDA Alexandra is an Australian author who has garnered wide acclaim for her novels Silver Wattle and White Gardenia, both of which have strong female protagonists, who battle the vagaries of life before triumphantly overcoming all obstacles.

Like her previous novels, Tuscan Rose, also features a feisty young female heroine – in this case an Italian orphan, deposited at a nunnery – who must overcome not only her lack of family, but later, the vicissitudes of World War II.

Rosa is blessed with a talent for music, nurtured by the nuns of Santo Spirito in Florence, and manages to parlay her skills into a position as a governess at the home of a local aristocrat.

At the same time, Fascism is growing in Italy and war is being whispered about in Europe. A naive young girl, Rosa, manages to get herself caught up in another person's scandal and ends up accused of something quite horrible. Packed off to jail, she is once again accosted by the nastiness of human nature.

Tuscan Rose is a mix of historical fiction, romance and coming-of-age tale. A thin thread of magic realism winds its way through the story, however, offering the story a bit more depth and imagination.

Rosa has another talent – somehow she can tell where things originated. She uses this skill throughout the story to both add mystery to her background and to move the plot along. The search for her heritage is an additional storyline, which unfortunately is rather easy to spot early on in the book. But don't worry, there's a neat twist to even it out in the conclusion.

The plot of Tuscan Rose can be read as quite simplistic, there are the accepted tropes of orphan girl thrust into the world, all unknowing, and overcoming trials and tribulations – even the language used to describe it is cliched – but the book has a saving grace (sorry, couldn't resist).

Alexandra has a lovely turn of phrase and a competent understanding of women and the way they think. There is an acceptance of Rosa's weaknesses – her tendency to be too trusting, her innocence and her fickleness in love – but there is also a celebration of her strengths. Rosa loves passionately and ruthlessly protects those she loves; she endures physical and emotion hardship without complaint and, finally, she takes her revenge coldly but not viscously.

Like women the world over and throughout history, Rosa typifies all that is honourable in a woman's capacity to love. Alexandra manages to endow Rosa with all these attributes without becoming saccharine however, which is to her credit. Rosa's story could easily have fallen into the sappy, love-story genre without the author's deft skill.

True, Tuscan Rose is no great piece of literature, but it is a good read. The historical scholarship is detailed enough to satisfy lovers of historical fiction and the romance and personalities of the characters will entertain readers looking for a gentle read.

Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra is published by HarperCollins and is available from good book stores and online.

First published on The Straits Times blogs on March 02, 2010


Post a Comment