We lived in Eritrea for three and a half years, so this book about an Italian, living in Eritrea, during the Ethiopian war of 1935 while Mussolini was still in power brought back a lot of memories.
As always, no serious spoilers will be given in this post. However, it being a historical novel, I might mention one of two historical facts. If you don’t know anything about this war and want to simply read the book, please do – it’s a good book (although not amazing) and come back to this review when you’re finished.
Back to the review.
What I liked: the story. There is, of course, a love story intertwined with history. Just to make it all more palatable to people like me that don’t want to read a historical novel but want to know what really happened without being bored to tears. And the story isn’t bad – Aatifa, the Eritrean woman, is a fun character to watch develop. There are some fun surprises and a few small twists, but overall the story is quite predictable. Enzo is too goody-goody, not unlike Jack in Lost (that I despised) (Jack, not Lost, obviously).
What I also liked: the descriptions of Asmara and Massawa. Burke was quite good at that – he most probably visited the city and did his research. He didn’t do his research in a complete manner, however, because…
What I hated: the part (not a real spoiler, I promise) in which they are on a boat in the Dahlak Islands and suddenly three orcas swim with them. Yeah, no. I was on the metro and without realising I exclaimed Orcas?! Really?? As a naturalist, I was appalled. There are no orcas in the Red Sea. None. They might drift in by mistake, BUT. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought if he got this wrong, so wrong, and didn’t research something so easy to find, is everything else he wrote correct? I would have doubted the descriptions, the history, the facts. But in the end I think he probably overlooked just that. Hopefully.
Another thing I didn’t like: the back cover. I know it could sound superficial, but having a book in your hand with the title “the good Italian” on one side and a drawing of Mussolini on the other made me feel uncomfortable to the point that I’d lean the book on my lap to not show Mussolini’s face. I’m not sure if anyone else felt the same, but maybe the publishers should have thought of that – people that don’t know what the book is about could misinterpret.
On the whole, the book is written well and the story is interesting. As I said above: a good book but not an amazing one.
PS while looking for images for this post, I found the following short commercial. I thought it was kindof cool.