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Liberation    by Joanna Scott order for
by Joanna Scott
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Little, Brown & Co., 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Joanna Scott, author of Tourmaline, returns again to the island of Elba (famed as Napoleon's first place of exile) and fills in the story of Adriana, adopted daughter of Giulia Nardi. We meet Adriana as the elderly Mrs. Rundel, who recently celebrated her seventieth birthday surrounded by a large, loving family. What precipitates Mrs. Rundel's flashbacks to her childhood is a life-threatening clot in her pulmonary artery. As she struggles for breath on a train to New York, she recalls the 1944 liberation of Elba by Allied troops. Fearing (wisely as it turns out) the incoming soldiers, her mother and uncle hide the almost eleven-year-old child in a cabinet beside the kitchen sink. While Adriana exercises her imagination and dozes, Senegalese soldiers rape and kill fourteen-year-old Sofia Canuti nearby.

Escaping outside once the immediate danger has passed, Adriana spots a dark young man, Amdu Diop, in the Nardi vineyard. Middle class seventeen-year-old Amdu is 'known for being useless' - he chooses not to kill, and tends to lose his regiment till the fighting is over. He's a confused dreamer, who 'considered himself as close to a saint as he could come without actually communicating with God' and believes he can work miracles. On the run after being grazed by a bullet, he saw what his fellows did to Sofia, and fled again, horrified, and afraid of what they would do to a witness. He makes his way to La Chiatta, where Adriana finds him. Amdu saves her from more soldiers, and Giulia offers him succour. Adriana is fascinated by him, but her uncle and a boy, Paolo, hold hard to their prejudices. Adriana is heartbroken when Amdu flees once more, driven away by others' actions.

As so many mothers have done, Giulia muses, 'Lives will remain tangled together even at a distance, even through time. Wonderful, horrible love. You open up the cabinet door, and your daughter tumbles out. You've done all you can to protect her. And look what happens.' There are ongoing ripples from the atrocities of war, and Adriana hears from Amdu one more time. Joanna Scott gives us another lyrical and engrossing story in Liberation, one that deals with innocents in wartime, first love, and the misunderstandings that individuals carry into relationships through personal prejudice and cultural divides. Reading Liberation made me want to re-read Tourmaline, to see Adriana Nardi in that context again, but from the new perspectives gained on her youth and old age.

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