“The swoon-worthy Roman backdrop, filled with plenty of sunsets, cathedrals, and villas, reflects the classic romantic themes of love, sacrifice, and redemption.”
Romance is in love with Rome. In fact, the word romance originates from the Latin word romanicus, which means “of the Roman style.” It indicates a style of storytelling that focuses on chivalry and love, exactly what author Lisa Scottoline delivers in her most recent novel set in World War II-era Rome, Eternal.
Scottoline paints for readers an intimate view of life in Rome from the time that Mussolini becomes dictator up until his defeat. The story contrasts the city’s ancient architecture and vibrant culture against the rising danger of the fascist movement and the secret resistance against the Nazi invaders.
The story alternates between three star-crossed teenagers—Marco, Sandro, and Elisabetta—who face unique moral dilemmas as they come of age in the Eternal City. The story merges the coming-of-age narrative with a love triangle and a heaping spoonful of suspense. Readers will find the swoon-worthy Roman backdrop, filled with plenty of sunsets, cathedrals, and villas, reflecting the classic romantic themes of love, sacrifice, and redemption. Anyone who wants to understand the struggles of WWII or experience life in Italy would love this book. This would be a good fit for fans of Adriana Trigiani, Lisa Wingate, and Pam Jenoff.
Sandro finds himself at an intersection between his Jewish identity and his Italian identity. His family is ardently loyal to Italy and the fascist party, but then are surprised when the new Race Laws suddenly criminalize them. They learn that their own political party is trying to commit genocide against them, despite their years of dedication. Sandro, who has always loved the Elisabetta, must choose to separate from her because he does not want to drag her into further persecution.
Marco’s navigates a dilemma between his loyalty to Italy and his loyalty to his Jewish friends. As an impressionable child, Marco was brainwashed to love fascism and to worship Mussolini. He waited eagerly for the day when he could wear the fascist uniform, but as he slowly learns to think for himself and realizes the atrocities his government is committing against the Jewish community. When the Italian government starts to persecute his best friend, Sandro, for his Jewish heritage, Marco must realize the error of his ways and redeem himself.
Elisabetta comes from a family damaged by alcoholism. Lacking a mother figure, she must learn for herself what it means to be a woman and what a healthy relationship looks like, because she has never seen one before in her own home. She is driven by her passion for writing and wants to be a novelist one day, though this part of her is not explored very much. Her romantic interests alternate between Sandro and Marco, and she must choose between them.
One criticism is that Elisabetta seems like the least-developed of the three main characters. At her worst, she just serves the romantic interests of the two male characters. She is given some agency through her aspiration of becoming a writer, and her Nonna teaches her about being independent, though this is forgotten as we spend most of the book focused on the dilemmas facing Marco and Sandro.
In the first half of the book, Mussolini becomes the villain for his increasingly evil edicts, though in the second half he fades from the picture. Readers might finish the book, but still be left waiting for the satisfaction of seeing Mussolini captured and arrested in 1945, though readers receive no mention of it.
This book provides a refreshing update to the love triangle narrative, which can sometimes be outdated. Usually, a love triangle features two men locked in intense competition over a woman. Both men are consumed by jealousy, viewing the woman as a prize to be won; however, in this book the characters retain the structure of the love triangle while still acting like reasonable adults. In one scene, Sandro and Marco honestly discuss their mutual feelings for Elisabetta and agree to remain friends and not let their feelings divide them. Instead of boorishly competing for Elisabetta, both men agree to let Elisabetta choose for herself and to accept her decision without giving into jealousy.
“Our friendship is strong enough to withstand a test, don’t you think?”
Marco thought it over, for it was a serious question. “Absolutely,” he answered, after a moment.
“I don’t mind a friendly competition, do you?”
“No. If I have to compete for Elisabetta, so be it. You’re worthy of her. If it isn’t to be me, I want it to be you.”
“I feel the same way. May the better man win.”
In addition, the book utilizes the city of Rome to create a very strong sense of place, which makes the book double as a vacation. The book immerses readers in local food, music, architecture, plants, and language. The title also draws from Rome’s nickname as the Eternal City, emphasizing the city’s central role as the book’s main romantic character, proving you cannot have romance without Rome.