Title: Farewell My Life: Buona Notte Vita Mia
Author: Cynthia Sally Haggard
Genre: Historical Fiction / Coming-of-Age
This intriguing tale explores the hopes, plans, and struggles of Angelina, the stubborn youngest daughter of a troubled Italian-American family, and her two daughters. A widow, Angelina became a “fallen woman,” acting as a mistress over the years in an attempt to earn her own money, and the story opens just as her life begins to change.
But when she finds a young man passionately and relentlessly interested in courting Grace, her youngest, who is only seventeen, she takes an instant dislike to the scheme and begins a campaign to drive him away—only he turns out to be far more relentless than she ever dreamed.
The novel is set in the years between World War I and World War II, showing a variety of settings, from an American suburb to Venice and the countryside of Italy and Germany, though much of the story takes place in Berlin itself. The politics leading up to World War II do make an appearance, but the story is largely about the choices of the three women and how they change over the course of the book.
The author has clearly done a great deal of historical research into the time, filling the story with details about the clothes, buildings, and passersby, to where readers can enjoy an immersive experience. The dialogue similarly seems to fit, with some lines in Italian and then translated into English to give the feel of the characters and the way they’ve kept their heritage alive.
Based on the places the characters go and how the plot develops, the author seems willing to show exactly what might’ve taken place without holding back, and while some of the expletives are omitted, particularly those in English, the scenes can be quite graphic as the plot unflinchingly follows the women through their decisions and dealings with the men around them.
The story clearly indicates the “man’s world” in which the characters lived without making men the source of all the women’s troubles, as most of the time, the women’s own choices stand and fall by their own merits. There are good men and men with deep flaws, and the women are faced with difficult choices, especially Angelina and Grace, yet even the worst characters are shown in such a way as to be both sympathetic and repulsive, never just villainous.
The book could use some editorial polish, as comma splices are quite frequent, and there are moments when the plot seems a trifle forced, where characters act as they need to for the story to unfold rather than exactly as they normally would, but at the same time, there are times when the characters are dealing with trauma, drugs, and psychological triggers, so it can be hard to predict actions in such moments.
Perfect for those who are looking for a story that turns happily-ever-after and “love that’s meant to be” on its head, this novel can be thoughtful one moment and heartbreakingly active the next. The characters are compelling, the settings vibrant, and the story unexpected, making for an enthralling read.
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