I just finished historical fiction book, The Poet’s War, by Frances O’Neill. The Poet’s War is a sweeping novel spanning the two world wars in Italy. Alistair Stears, is a teenager at the start of World War I. An American who grows up in Italy due to his mother’s relationship with an Italian colonel, Alistair is a poet and lover of art. The novel follows his life living in Italy. From the glamorous life money can provide in Italy when he’s young, to trying to stay alive during the destructive times of the first world war, to becoming a spy during World War II. All through this, Alistair has a few loves until marrying his wife who comes from German-Italian nobility. It is this love and marriage that grounds him and makes their dangerous decision to spy, worth it.
It took me a while to get into the book, but when I was halfway through I was really invested in the characters and was hoping that nothing bad would happen to Alistair and his wife, Ottavia. I found the storyline to be really interesting. I love historical fiction and this was something different for me. Most of what I know about World War II, especially when it comes to the movies we’ve all seen, are all war stories – as in soldiers fighting in the wars – or movies about the Nazis and concentration camps. The Poet’s War is different, because even though there is some fighting, a bulk of the story is how Alistair and Ottavia try to maintain their life in Italy and then what they try to do behind the scenes to help the Allied forces secretly. It was a really interesting take on WWII, which I hadn’t seen before. I also realized I don’t really know much about Italy during this time period.
My only “complaint” about the book is that it is long. The language is beautiful and the author makes everything so descriptive that you almost feel like you’re riding horseback through the lands of an estate in Tuscany. But at times it just got to be too much for me. It’s definitely one of those books that you will enjoy even more if you’re a lover of language and superfluous prose. But, in a way it was helpful to this story. For example, the author never outrightly says that Alistair loves his wife (maybe he did, I don’t remember, but it wasn’t something that got repeated), but you could tell through the language. He would write about them sleeping in the same bed, limbs entangled, the warmth of their skin, and how they felt like one as war raged on around them. It really brought the characters and their love to life for me.
Overall, I thought it was beautifully written and I’m glad I stuck with it. I hate to leave books unfinished so I would’ve finished it regardless, but once I did I ended up really loving the story and the characters.
*I received this book complimentary, but all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.*