April reads have been treating me well for I have recently finished this gem of a book.
The back cover claims that From Sand and Ash is a sweeping, epic story of love, war and the resilience of the human spirit, and man it DELIVERS! If I am to be honest, I already want to re-read it.
“Life is like a long note; it persists without variance, without wavering. There is no cessation in sound or pause in tempo. It continues on, and we must master it or it will master us.”
From Sand and Ash has recently won the adult novel of the year award from The Whitney Awards.
This is my third book by Amy Harmon, and while I already knew that she has a way with words, now I have also realized that she knows and understands human emotions on a whole new level. Her books are always enchanting and raw, be it a fantasy or a historical fiction.
From Sand and Ash is a historical fiction romance, set in World War II, Italy. We follow two main characters, Eva and Angelo, from their childhood years through the adulthood. Eva and Angelo are as different as two people can be. For starters, Angelo is a catholic, with a life-long dream of becoming a priest, and Eva is a jew. In nazi Italy of 1943 a match, a friendship or even a glance between those two is forbidden. Being born a jew is forbidden.
Now, before I go gushing about this book, you have to know that historical fiction set in World War II is my absolute favorite topic to read about. I was a weird 12 year old who wanted read ALL of the books on WWII in local library. And read them all I did. I couldn't get enough of rebellion and of bravery that came with fighting and surviving a war. The people at the front lines, the medics, the "underground" rebels, the scared and helpless ones at the outskirts of a fighting zone. I wanted to know all of their stories.
“Our immortality comes through our children and their children. Through our roots and branches. The family is immortality. And Hitler has destroyed not just branches and roots, but entire family trees, forests. All of them, gone.”
From Sand and Ash broke my heart, and then stabbed me with the sharp pieces of it. This book made me hate humanity with black rage and then very slowly made me believe in it again.
The novel is a fiction, but all of the horrors that nazis did to jewish people were taken from true events. At times I thought that my eyes would bleed from the terrors that I read. I was constantly asking myself 'how could humans be capable of such things?' Chapter 21 just killed me.
I adored Eva and Angelo's relationship when they were children.
'I would have to take off my trousers, he challenged, trying to shock her.'
'So?, she said saucily, shrugging her shoulders. I don't care about your smelly underwear.'
Years had gone by, but Eva stayed the same little taunting daredevil, and Angelo was always good at finding excuses. Until he couldn't find any, anymore.
I read the Author's Note provided at the end of the book, and was not surprised to see that Amy Harmon has done an extensive research before writing this book, not only on the WWII in Italy, but also on the catholic and jewish religious practices. Because of it this novel feels so completely authentic. As you can expect, from Angelo being a catholic priest and all, the book is heavy on religion. It explores the differences between the two religions and shows that in the end differences fade, but people, in their most raw form, remain.
“It was love that made each touch feel like redemption and each kiss feel like rebirth. Not lust. Not pleasure. It was love that created joy.”
If you love and appreciate a good historical fiction, I cannot recommend this book enough. For me it was a magnificent, although heartbreaking, 5 star read. If you are not big on romance, don't worry, I am not either, but From Sand and Ash has so much more to offer.
I also feel that after this book, my super-human thirst for WWII novels has been reopened, so if you know any good ones, please recommend.
If you want to learn more about Amy Harmon and her books, I have provided her official website down below.