Title: From Sand and Ash
Author: Amy Harmon
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Goodreads Synopsis: Italy, 1943—Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II.
As children, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family but divided by circumstance and religion. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love. But the church calls to Angelo and, despite his deep feelings for Eva, he chooses the priesthood.
Now, more than a decade later, Angelo is a Catholic priest and Eva is a woman with nowhere to turn. With the Gestapo closing in, Angelo hides Eva within the walls of a convent, where Eva discovers she is just one of many Jews being sheltered by the Catholic Church.
But Eva can’t quietly hide, waiting for deliverance, while Angelo risks everything to keep her safe. With the world at war and so many in need, Angelo and Eva face trial after trial, choice after agonizing choice, until fate and fortune finally collide, leaving them with the most difficult decision of all.
It’s taken me a while to review this book, simply because I am at a loss for words as to how to translate my feelings for this book into a review. Amy Harmon has proved, first in The Bird and the Sword and now in From Sand and Ash, her ability to create a work of art using words alone. I want to read everything this author has ever written, even her shopping lists.
From Sand and Ash is a story of contradictions, contrasting violence with love, fear with bravery, good with evil, and death with life. Amy brings together the best and worst of humanity on these pages, evoking a relentless emotional response that will have you laughing one minute and sobbing the next. The story of Eva Roselli and Angelo Bianco is as enchanting as it is brutal. The love they share, forbidden both by duty and by law, is all consuming despite the horrific circumstances in which this love inhabits. Amy doesn’t disguise the pain and atrocities her characters face, but immerses her readers in a frightening and turbulent time in history. This book serves, not only as a story of survival and love, but as a reminder that we are all the same. No matter where we come from, where we live, who we pray to, or what we believe in, we all seek joy and purpose. This book is a harrowing demonstration of what happens when we stop trying to understand each other, when we take what makes us different and use it as a means to divide, hurt, and demean. This message is hammered in on every page, in every sentence, in every word. When we refuse to learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.
As someone who was raised in a Catholic family, I understood Angelo’s devotion to God. However, his self-righteousness and desire for martyrdom were very frustrating. The relationship and tension between Angelo and Eva was all consuming, and it tugged on my heartstrings to see just how much he loved her. It actually brought tears to my eyes to see just how much Angelo worshiped Eva’s mind, body, and soul. Even though he is a priest, you can’t help but root for them no matter how wrong and blasphemous it is in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
In the author’s note, Amy mentions that she researched Judaism and Catholicism, but wasn’t sure if she brought them justice. I can’t speak for Judaism, but I can say that she captured the Catholic religion beautifully. I think both of these religions have a negative stigma to them, brought about throughout history due to a lack of understanding. Amy Harmon not only understands these religions, but she makes them beautiful. Even if you aren’t religious by any means, I think you can still appreciate the role each religion plays in this book.
My biggest, and only, complaint I had while reading this book was how lucky these characters were, to the point where it was almost unbelievable. There were times when Eva and Angelo should have gotten caught, but didn’t. There were characters that had happy endings that seemed too good to be true, endings that fell too easily into place, or were resolved too quickly. However, none of these things took away from the bigger picture. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and its message is still relevant for us today. Highly, highly recommended.