By – October 1, 2018

When Liam Tag­gart, an inves­ti­ga­tor, and his wife, attor­ney Cather­ine Lock­hart, are invit­ed to din­ner by the own­er of their favorite Ital­ian restau­rant, they are offered a free trip to Tus­cany to help the owner’s aging aunt Gabi who is being evict­ed from her vine­yard by a large cor­po­ra­tion. The cor­po­ra­tion sup­pos­ed­ly holds the title to the land, but Gabi knows that it is hers. Upon their arrival in Tus­cany, she tells Cather­ine and Liam to read a mem­oir by a woman named Ada Baum­garten, a Ger­man vio­lin­ist forced to flee Berlin and set­tle in Bologna, Italy when the Nazis took pow­er. The book chap­ters alter­nate between Ada’s sto­ry and Cather­ine and Liam’s jour­ney through the Ital­ian legal sys­tem as they try to trace the chain of the land title.

From Ada, read­ers get a vivid descrip­tion of the fate of Italy’s Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty dur­ing World War II and learn about Ada’s life as a Ger­man Jew in exile. Bal­son places real his­tor­i­cal fig­ures such as con­duc­tor Wil­helm Fürtwängler and Rein­hard Hey­drich in the sto­ry, pro­vid­ing con­text as the events unfold. As Cather­ine and Liam dis­cov­er, Ada has a direct link to Gabi and her vine­yard, but some­one con­nect­ed to the cor­po­ra­tion has tak­en extreme mea­sures to hide it. Liam, Cather­ine, and the young Ital­ian lawyer who assists them must sort through moun­tains of paper­work to uncov­er the malev­o­lent cir­cum­stances affect­ing Gabi’s land.

Mur­der, decep­tion, and greed are involved, but this com­pelling sto­ry also offers the beau­ty of music and love, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of redemption.

Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

Discussion Questions

Sev­en­ty-eight-year-old Gabrielle Vin­cen­zo has been giv­en six­ty days to vacate her vil­la in the Tus­can hills out­side of Pien­za. Her sev­en­ty-acre prop­er­ty is sur­round­ed by vine­yards owned by Vin­Co S.A., one of Italy’s largest wine pro­duc­ers. Vin­Co claims it has legal title to Vil­la Vin­cen­zo and the Ital­ian court has grant­ed it pos­ses­sion, issu­ing an order for Gabrielle’s eviction.

Into this sto­ry come Cather­ine Lock­hart and Liam Tag­gart, a Chica­go lawyer and pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor team hired by Gabrielle’s nephew Tony, an old friend of Cather­ine and Liam’s, to trav­el to Italy to assist her in fight­ing to keep her home. Before they depart, he gives them a hand­writ­ten man­u­script, sent by Gabrielle from Italy with instruc­tions that Cather­ine read it. The man­u­script is the mem­oir of Ada Baum­garten, a young vir­tu­oso vio­lin­ist who comes of age in Berlin in the 1930s. Ada’s mem­oir holds the key to resolv­ing the mys­tery of Gabrielle’s emo­tion­al attach­ment to the prop­er­ty, her rela­tion­ship to Ada, and the right­ful own­er­ship of the vil­la and land.

Author Ronald H. Bal­son art­ful­ly weaves Ada’s tale and the sto­ry of Gabrielle’s legal bat­tle togeth­er into a fast-mov­ing, sus­pense­ful and well-researched nov­el that illu­mi­nates the cru­el­ty and hor­ror of Nazi Ger­many and the hero­ism of ordi­nary people.