My Father's House by Joseph O'Connor
Rome – 1943
This is the story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, a Vatican priest heading up the Rome Escape Line, a coalition of people determined to help both Jews and Allied Prisoners of War escape the clutches of the Nazi’s.
I devoured this novel. The research, plotting, world building and character depth are superb. There’s a real authentic feel to everything, from the sounds and smells of occupied Rome to the motives of those opposing the occupation to the man overseeing it.
I researched a little after I finished reading, always curious to learn how much real history goes in to a story – and there is so much material for the author to work with. What these people put themselves through every day to try and see other people safe is remarkable, and their names deserve to live on in stories such as this one.
The story itself is told through multiple POV’s, and across different time lines. Told in the present tense is the story of Hugh himself. he is building towards the Rendimento – one last great mission to free the hidden Allied soldiers he has billeted across the city. His story builds up to Xmas eve 1943.
Opposing him is Obersturmbannfurher Paul Hauptmann (think I spelt that right!) Paul is a merciless Gestapo commander in charge of the occupation of Rome. You hate him immediately (as you should) and can’t help but feel joy as he struggles to comprehend what Hugh is doing. He knows what is happening, he just can’t seem to stop it – and that makes the story even more enjoyable.
After them we have what I found to be my favourite parts. Numerous people involved in the escape line, telling their stories through interviews with the BBC set some twenty years after the events of the book. It’s a really clever well of doing it – breaking up the story of Hugh with different characters recollecting their thoughts on the man who they once called their leader, adding depth to Hugh’s character and giving the reader a different perspective of the story. I’ve never read a book written like this, I’d certainly like to read another!
In the end you’re left with a complete story of remarkable events. I know it’s one that will stay with me for a while.
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