Bought to Florence from London when she was only five, Alice Orsini now lives in the villa of San Martino, South Tuscany, with her husband, Claudio.
On the eve of the Allied invasion of Italy, Alice’s quiet life will soon be redefined by moments of crisis and by great passion. With Claudio missing, Alice is helped in the daily running of the estate by architect Cecil Pritchett, one of the few members of the English community who fully accepted Claudio when Alice’s mother first introduced them.
Self-sufficient and dependent on no one except Pritchett, Alice is the first to admit that her bucolic farm has become an ideal isolated refuge for partisans and Allied soldiers who have escaped the prison camps of the Axis powers. Still, Alice knows that she can’t trust anyone as she strives to create a home for a group of mismatched children, a collection of refugees from Genoa.
In this landscape where Germans are all too willing to sell information about British soldiers, Alice is, at least initially dedicated to her cause, constantly testing the boundaries. Watching from her doorway, she doesn’t hesitate to help a disheveled
young woman sitting at the side of the road behind a rock. The girl, named Kristin, remembers nothing else but the eyes of the young man who lifts her onto the cart.
Pursuing into her dreams and reappearing in a different face, Kristin recalls the sad events in Rome that led up to the painful rift with Robert Marshall, a renowned art restorer. We aren’t sure why Kristin has unexpectedly arrived in San Martino, only that the smell of Marshall still lingers in Kristin’s hair, as well as the “invisible imprint of his kisses” and the echo of his voice in her head.
From Nazi officers who appear at Alice’s door accusing her of harboring enemies, to Robert Marshall’s refined but slippery dealings in Rome, to the front lines that transform from partisan skirmishing into something much larger, the booms of explosions presage a darkening haze coming to the valley. While Claudio‘s fate remains unknown, Kristin stays, teaching Alice's beloved children how to read.
We soon learn of Alice’s agreement to store an important painting at Marshall’s request,
though Pritchard is sure that hiding it is bound to backfire on them.
In this fervent story of love and art’s restoration, the author recounts the collective cost of war. Alice, in her first-person voice, furtively writes in her diary late into the night while listening to BBC broadcasts.
In Rome, Kristin becomes the enthusiastic recipient of Marshall’s talents, and his passion. Alice, of course, knows what is coming: the Germans are putting up little resistance and are retreating North though her beloved valley. We feel for Alice as she walks in the moonlight, retreating from her memories and from the worries that seem to grip her and won’t let go.
While the graphic effects of war are the perfect background - and foil - for Alice’s courageousness, the shifting points of view truly expose Olafsson's talent for cinematic grandeur. The author's recognition of the pointlessness and futility of borders give Restoration added piquancy as the warnings of history are once again made all too real.