"Our Darkest Night" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
It’s 1943, and the Germans have invaded Italy. Two young people from far different worlds meet under these dire straits—Antonia, a Jewish woman, and Niccolò, a Gentile, who proves to be her rescuer. The strangers are thrown together in “Our Darkest Night,” a marvelous new historical fiction by Jennifer Robson. It’s an easy-to-read book, a love story that never stoops to being schmaltzy.
The first hint that danger is in the offing comes when Father Bernardi, a patient and friend of Antonia’s father, visits the family in 1942. He warns the doctor he must flee—the Germans have taken Austria and soon Italy will be overrun. But the doctor is loyal to his role as sole physician in the village, and his wife is ill and can’t travel. Still Antonia’s father realizes he must find a way to save his daughter.
Several months later, Father Bernardi comes up with a plan he presents to the doctor. Father Bernardi lives in the same village as Niccolò and his family. He asks Niccolò, who is studying to be a priest, to pretend to marry Antonia and take her to his village, a plan unbeknownst to Niccolò’s family.
The doctor can’t stand the thought of sending Antonia away, but her safety is paramount. Though Antonia begs to stay with her parents, she accepts her fate and Antonia and Niccolò set off on their journey as husband and wife.
It’s clear at the onset these likeable protagonists will move from being strangers to friends and then to lovers, but in the process the guise they must pull off with Niccolò’s family makes for tense, uncomfortable moments. Readers will wait for the next shoe to drop, and worse yet for the cruel German officer who bullied Niccolò as a child to get wind of Antonia’s real backstory. The tension mounts as does the affection and love shared by Antonia and Niccolò and the strife they must weather to be together.
“Our Darkest Night” will keep you engaged from first page to last. It offers a unique, creative take on a star-crossed lovers' theme.