‘”I want my mamma”, he says. She looks at him. Small, defiant. Orphaned. Her knees buckle, and she puts her hand to the parapet.’
Every so often, it’s nice to just pick up a book that has been sitting in my TBR….waiting!! Early One Morning is one of those books. Written by Virginia Baily and published by Virago Press in 2015, I have been dying to read it. I purchased it a few months back and time escaped me to open it. A suitcase was the perfect opportunity!!
I hope you enjoy my review of this truly beautiful book.
‘A grey dawn in 1943: on a street in Rome, two young women, complete strangers to each other, lock eyes for a single moment.
One of them, Chiara Ravello, is about to flee the occupied city. The other has been forced at gunpoint on to the back of a truck with her husband and their young children.
As time stands still, Chiara makes a decision that changes her life forever. Loudly claiming the woman’s son as her own nephew, she demands and – to her amazement – secures his immediate release. Only as the trucks depart does she begin to realize what she has done.
Three decades later, Chiara Lives alone in Rome, a self-contained, self-possessed woman, apparently content. But always in the background is the shadow of Daniele, the boy from the truck, whose absence haunts her every moment. Gradually we learn of the havoc wrought by the boy Chiara rescued, and how he eventually broke her heart. And when she receives a phone call from a teenage girl, named Maria, claiming to be Daniele’s daughter, Chiara knows she has to face up to the past.’
Early One Morning is a story of such poignancy. Based in Rome during the German occupation of Rome, Virginia Baily paints a picture of the fear, heartbreak and tragedy at a time in our history when families were broken up and people just disappeared.
Chiara Ravello is a heroine. Having done some work with the resistance in Rome, she accepts a life changing moment without a qualm. Seeing a family on a truck in the ghetto, Chiara intervenes and saves the life of Daniele, a young Jewish boy, who was heading for an inevitable tragic end.
Chiara’s life changes forever at that moment. Her parents and fiance are casualties of the war leaving Chiara caring for her sister Cecelia, who has a disability. Now she has a young boy in her care. A boy who has no papers and is a Jew.
‘If you are out alone, you take your proper documentation. But when the boy is with you, take these other ones that make you family, and that way you arouse less suspicion. You are unremarkable.’
Through her determination and pure ingenuity, they survive the war…..but at what cost?
Chiara remains in Rome for the rest of her life. She lives alone, with a few friends. She is relatively happy but there is a constant shadow over her days….Daniele.
Chiara is also beginning to feel the onset of old age.
‘Invisability creeps up on you. It is impossible to pinpoint the moment of its onset. Older than you might imagine when you’re young. Chiara had thought herself immune. But recently there had been a fading. A feeling of being used up, a sort of creeping pointlessness…There was a time when she practised passing unnoticed. Now she didn’t even have to try.’
We are introduced to Daniele’s character as he grew up. He was a rebel, a boy who chose the wrong path and in so doing left a trail of devastation behind that affected Chiara for the rest of her life.
Chiara, lives a life of guilt…what did she do wrong?
Everything changes for Chiara, when she receives a phone call from a young girl in Wales claiming to be Daniele’s daughter. The time has come for the truth to be revealed.
Virginia Baily writes about the destruction and upset that Chiara survived through. We read about a life that was forever changed by one single act of kindness.
Daniele, is a character that intrigued me throughout this book. He was an almost elusive shadow in the background. Nothing in his life seemed to go well. He could never escape his roots.
‘He doesn’t need to be in the ghetto, that one; he carries it about with him.’
With the arrival of Maria, we get an insight into the type of person he was. We are introduced to some of the other people whose lives he affected. Maria is a mixed up young woman looking for closure…but will her trip to Rome achieve this for her? Will she find out more about the father she has never known?
You will have to pick up a copy of Early One Morning to find out for yourself. I just loved this book and I hope you do too.
It is a poignantly told story about three people and how their lives were forever entwined over a thirty year period. It a story of heartbreak, family, love and regrets but mostly it is a story of hope.
I hope you enjoy. xx
Who is Virginia Baily:
Virginia Baily is the author of two novels: Early One Morning and Africa Junction, which won the McKitterick prize in 2012.
She holds a PhD and MA in English from the University of Exeter. She founded and co-edits Riptide, a short-story journal.
She is also the editor of the political series of the Africa Research Bulletin. She lives in Exeter, Devon.
Such a great review of such a top book. It ticked all the boxes for me, poignancy, good characters and a great setting – we actually visited the street when we were in Rome that is depicted on the front cover, not much different today!
Thanks Tina. I really enjoyed it. It’s always an era that fascinates me. Appreciate your feedback. x