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A Novel of Love and War - an Editorial Review of "Angel of Alta Langa"



Book Blurb:


5-STAR HIGHLY RECOMMENDED AWARD FROM THE HISTORICAL FICTION COMPANY


FINALIST IN THE INDEPENDENT AUTHOR NETWORK BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARDS 2022 IN WOMEN'S FICTION AND HISTORICAL FICTION.


CATEGORY HONORABLE MENTION IN HISTORICAL FICTION COMPANY 2022 BOOK OF THE YEAR COMPETITION


Alba, Italy, 1918. The Great War ends and pandemic rages in Piemonte. Fascism takes root in the ruins. Cornelia Bottero has lost her husband on the battlefield and her only child to influenza. Despite the risks, the wealthy widow charts her course to meet the moment and defy a regime that values women only as mothers of future soldiers.


Within Cornelia’s circle are Sara, a spirited Barbaresco farm girl, and Doretta, the strong-willed daughter of a prominent Jewish banking family in Turin. Though from different worlds, they are both true Piemontese, united by courage, resolve, and a gift for friendship. As Fascist Italy descends into the hellish abyss of Hitler’s Reich and his war against the Jews, Sara and Doretta see what adults do not see—cannot bear to see.


Cornelia senses their potential in the Resistance: Sara as a battlefield nurse, Doretta as a partisan. After Italy’s surrender in 1943, the Nazis tighten their grip on Piemonte. The death count climbs as their liberation hangs in the balance.


Barbaresco, Piemonte, January 1946. The first post-war year dawns. Who has survived the madness to live on in a free, united Italy?


Angel of Alta Langa is a fast-paced, spellbinding saga of heartwarming emotion, unimaginable evil, gut-wrenching suspense, and abiding love inspired by real-life events. From the vineyards of Barbaresco and the forests of Alta Langa, to the putrid cells of a prison in Turin, experience the horror—and the humanity—of Piemonte’s darkest years of the twentieth century.


"So if you’ve been to wineries in Piemonte, or if you just want an engaging account of what life was like for the farmers of this area during this troubling time of the 20th century, do yourself a favor and purchase a copy of Angel of Alta Langa." Tom Hyland, author of "The Wines and Food of Piemonte."


"With her sensibility and passion, Suzanne has slowly come ever closer to our culture and absorbed its intimate values." Maurizio Rosso, author, historian, and proprietor of Cantina Gigi Rosso (Barolo)


"I'm devouring 'Angel of Alta Langa' and savouring the rich tapestry of the history and life of this fascinating region."Amazon Review


"An emotional roller-coaster of a book which I couldn't put down! I virtually 'lived' the WW2 partisan life in the Italian Langhe vineyards with these wonderful characters and experienced all their joys, horrors and heartbreaks." Amazon Review



Author Bio:



I am a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, an attorney, and a passionate storyteller about the lives of Italian wine families. Although I now call the Colorado Rockies home, I grew up in Thibodaux, in the heart of Louisiana bayou country where I spent my girlhood dreaming--usually on horseback--of distant shores.

Those dreams came true and, for over two decades, I lived and worked in Switzerland. From our home in the Pennine Alps of Valais, my husband, Dani, and I explored the wine-growing regions of Italy and France. In November 1999, I discovered Piemonte. Soon I became immersed in the enchanting region’s rich culture and history that changed my life forever.

In 2016, I published my first book, "Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte," an award-winning, groundbreaking collection of the life stories of Giulia Colbert Falletti, the last Marchesa of Barolo, and generations of twenty-two families of Piemonte’s Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato wine-producing areas. Against a rich historical backdrop, I studied the seismic cultural and business changes in the Piemontese wine industry that allowed women to step from the shadows and assume significant roles in their families’ wine estates. As the descendent of late 19th-century immigrants to America from Sicily and Ireland, the wine families' generations-old connection with one place--roots deep in the earth--enchanted me. I have to admit, I was a bit envious that they knew more about their fourth or fifth great-grandparents than I knew about my great-grandparents. How could I not want to write their stories, so many of which had not been told?

"Angel of Alta Langa: A Novel of Love and War" is my second book and debut novel released in November 2021. I dubbed it my "pandemic project."

When I am not at home in the Rockies, I can usually be found exploring the Alps, or the vineyards and wineries of Piemonte and Sicily where I discover inspiration for my writing. I am a lover of horses, nature, and beauty in all its forms. Dani and I enjoy alpine sports and summer outdoor activities in the Colorado Rocky Mountain High Country.


Editorial Review:


'Angel of Alta Langa' is a towering epic of a book! The book is set in Italy, specifically, in the area of Piemonte in the years between 1919 and 1946. This is a period which even those with only a rudimentary knowledge and understanding of world history will know to have been an especially harsh, brutal and bitter period, the ramifications of which are still felt today. The people of the area of Piemonte had an especially harsh time of it, as this very long book narrates. For the author, Suzanne Hoffman, this book is a personal triumph and reveals both her love and affection for the area and the people [which shines forth throughout], but also the intense and meticulous research and care that she has clearly taken in the writing of it.

The reader is advised that this is an extremely long, complex and occasionally confusing tale of the lives, loves and ultimate fates of a bewilderingly large cast of individual characters and families, all of them compelling, and a whole host of subsidiary characters besides. At times tenacity is a necessary virtue in the reader! To assist, Suzanne Hoffman has provided a full list of the principal families of the story and a highly useful and detailed historical timeline and a set of local maps. At the end of the book, along with additional notes, she has provided the reader with a glossary of Italian and dialect expressions used in this long and occasionally hard to follow book. The careful reader is warned and advised to make full use of all these at frequent intervals, particularly with regard to geography. 'Angel of Alta Langa', is, then, a tale of struggle, fortitude and moving heroism and resilience that is extraordinarily moving; and of love. Before the book, Suzanne Hoffman aptly quotes from the Biblical Book of 'Corinthians'. “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be strong, and do everything with love.”


The first part of the book covers the period of 1918 to 1937 and we are introduced first to the central character of the strong and redoubtable figure of the widow and heiress Cornelia Ferri Bottero. This woman, commonly known as 'Madama Lia' remains as a constant through the entire book as a towering figure of strength, courage and resistance. We meet too the hard working Fiore family of the 'Cà dei Fiù' in Asili. This is farm land and the centre of a fine vineyard, famous for the production of superlative wine [some of the best in all of wine rich Piemonte. Suzanne Hoffman, it needs to be said, is more than knowledgeable in the wines of the region and has published another book on the subject - '['Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte'']. Nico is the hard working family head, a family that shares the farms and houses of Asili with Madama Lia. He is strong, honest, and an expert wine producer. The family has not been blessed with sons, but he and his wife Luiga have four daughters; Sara, Maria, Letizia and Giovanna. It is Sara, the eldest, who is the eponymous 'Angel of Alta Langa'. 'Alta Langa', as the map shows, is the hilly and mountainous areas of the provinces of Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo on the right bank of the river Tanaro. It is a place of beauteous summers and bitter and vicious winters.


In 1932 the young Francesco Bosco, an immigrant worker from Sicily who barely speaks Italian, let alone the thick dialect of Piemonte, comes, through convoluted means, to live and work with the Fiore family. Also prominent are the Giordano family of the city of Turin, equally vital characters to the plot. They are an affluent Banking family with close links to Madama Lia and spend much time with her in her country house. The head of the family, Gabriele, though Jewish, is also a prominent member of the fast growing Fascist party. Both Doretta, a daughter, and Sara, the closest of friends since childhood, have benefitted from Lia's generosity. It is Lia, in fact, who is financing Sara's training as a nurse in the nearby town of Alba, a calling that will prove vital in the hard years to come. It is the growth and, finally, the prominence of the Italian Fascist Party under Benito Mussolini that affects and influences the fortunes of these families throughout the first part of the book and beyond to the very end. Stefano Olivero is an old friend to Madame Lia, and also her Lawyer and general 'consigliere'. Upon his death, his eldest son Luca becomes head of the family and, legally trained, almost immediately is inducted into the more private of Madama Lia's activities and enterprises - That of assisting oppressed and threatened Jewish families where and when she can. Soon after, he embarks upon the first of his dangerous missions, that of escorting a widow and her two young children from Nazi Germany to the [then] relative safety of Italy. Like Francesco, with his deep and abiding love for Sara, Luca, with his love for the attractive Doretta Giordano, remains until the end. By this stage of the book the reader has become grateful to the author for having included a full list of all these characters! The reader is provided with a whole host of insights into the lives of the people of Piemonte, even the humblest of meals takes on the aspect of 'Babette's Feast'':


These were difficult times, and food prices had soared under the Fascists. But in the countryside in Summer, nature provided in abundance. Luigia's humble meal included Christmas and Easter favourites. She and Giuseppina combined the hard work of thirty hens to prepare 'tajarin' and agnolotti, storing them in the cold, lower reaches of both cellars, along with vitello tonnato, braised rabbit with peppers and abundant fresh vegetables from Luigia's garden served with a sauce of Ligurian olive oil and salt. And no summer feast was complete without 'merluzzo alla salsa verde', anchovies, 'risotto alla lumache' and peach cake.'' - not to mention, of course, the superlative wines of the region!

Underlying this long tale throughout, with all its attractive touches - family relations, births and deaths and descriptions of various aspects of viniculture, the seasons, and all the rest - is a sense of unease and foreboding: This is the dark, ominous and increasing cloud of the rise and growing strength of National Socialism in Germany and the encroachment on all aspects of national life in Italy of the already well established Fascists. Their sinister presence is everywhere, and is increasingly threatening! This evil is personified in the figure of the young Fascist, Baldo Volpe. A citizen of Turin and a stalwart of the party from his early years, Volpe is far more than a mere stage villain straight from Central Casting. He more than adequately symbolises the rot, the canker, present in Italian society and political life. As the book evolves, he proves to be a very complex character indeed. Very early on in this epic, the paths of Doretta Giordano and Baldo Volpe fatally cross and he becomes obsessed with the young girl, a 'fatal attraction' that is a mixture of his sexual fascination with her and his repulsion of her 'Jewishness'. Both privately and in his capacity as a Fascist Jew hunter, his stalking of her, and through her of Sara, Luca and the Fiore and Bottero families, becomes the constant 'leitmotif' of 'Angel of Alta Langa' to the very end.


It could be argued that 'Angel of Alta Langa' is a bit of a slow starter, but the chapters covering the period of 1938 to 1945 is gripping, covering as they do all the agony, suffering and unbelievable heroism and tragedy of the Italian people of this time. The book becomes a mesmerising read, one fraught with incident and danger as The Nazis and the Fascist Black Shirts battle with and close in on the Partisans of Piemonte. Sara, the unflagging and courageous nurse and 'Angel' of the title and her lifelong friend Doretta, now an active partisan, are at the very focus of the book, leading to all manner of tragedies. Doretta, soon to be expelled from University on the grounds of her race and whose own disillusioned father, his bank seized and his membership of the Fascist party revoked for the same reason, reflects and prays: ''Dear Lord, please keep us safe from this dark on the horizon.'' This is, of course, a view shared by all in the difficult and challenging times. It is echoed by the supremely valiant and altogether admirable Madama Lia on the occasion of the marriage of Sara and Francesco:


I pray that your days will always be joyous and filled with the love of this day. And in these days of trouble we all face in our lives, you must think back on this moment and remember your blessings, most importantly, the love of family and friends. Salute.'' Naturally enough, this toast is followed by a serving of the noble wines of Langhe: ''Nico produced four bottles of 1919 Barbaresco. It was unthinkable to keep wines for so long, particularly in these troubling economic times, but Nico believed four bottles for each daughter's wedding would make no difference in their lives except to bring them joy. Wine was part of their heritage. Their births and the wines of the vintage were inextricably entwined.”

The period of the Italian 'Fascismo' is one of gloom and ever increasing deprivation, oppression and hardship. With the actual declaration of war against France and Great Britain, misery is brought to millions and the country family of Fiore and the more sophisticated Giordano family are no exception. They are swept up into the maw of the Second World War along with everybody else. Having experienced the joy of fatherhood, a daughter named Anna, the previously medically exempt Francesco is conscripted into the army through the machinations of another classic arch villain and Fascist informer, a local woman named Cinzia Strega [an appropriate name, for 'strega' means 'witch' in Italian] and disappears into the wilds of Russia thousands of miles away. The situation deteriorates even further still when, in October 1943, Italy actually declares war on Germany. The Germans are fighting an effective fighting retreat up the Italian peninsula and are very strongly entrenched in the north. Scores of partisan bands spring up and the period until the end of the war in May 1945 is one of deadly conflict between the Partisans and the German army [including the murderous S.S.] and the Fascist Black Shirts.It is a time of constant raids and reprisals and fearsome atrocities. Sara and Doretta, in particular, are subjected to an intense and terrifying hunt, led, naturally, by the ever eager and fanatical Baldo Volpe in pursuit of his duty to Fascism, the hunting down of Jews and of his own twisted personal ambitions. Throughout this period and to the end of the book, the action and the intensity is nail biting.


At the end of it all and when the guns finally fall silent, those that yet live can gather once more to attempt to reconstruct and resume their shattered lives and attempt to remember and live by the wise words spoken by Madama Lia at the Wedding Feast so many lives and years previously. A lot of time and effort has clearly gone into the research and the writing of this book and those who do read it cover to cover cannot fail to be impressed by the achievement and by the story it tells. 'Angel of Alta Langa' is both a harrowing account of war and a love story. It is told with a profound respect and is a riveting and painful account of the time, created on the basis of painstaking and meticulous research:


''She [Lia] plopped down and sat cross legged. She patted the ground next to her. ''Sit, Doretta.'' Lia raked her manicured nails through the loose soil, scooped up some, closed her eyes and held it to her nose, and then Doretta's. ''That, cara, is God's perfume. The fragrance is the Lange earth from which our nourishment comes......''See that chestnut tree? That's the one I climbed to find God. We wouldn't see him, but we would feel his presence. I truly did. From there the view of the plains and mountains beyond confirmed that God would live in such a place. Though just thirteen at the time, I knew then that God had a plan for me.''


*****


Angel of Alta Langa” by Suzanne Hoffman receives five stars and the 2023 Highly Recommended award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company


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