In THE DEVOTED, bestselling author Jonathan Hull builds a compelling, complicated and true-to-life novel that becomes something of a cross between old world romance and World War II historical. At the center of the tale is a middle-aged man named Ryan Brooks, an ordinary modern-day American in most respects, except that he lost his parents in a car accident as a child --- an event that nearly claimed his life and after which he felt compelled to hide his grief, having been raised by a peculiar aunt. Ryan escaped the accident with only a few burns because of the heroic efforts of a caring bystander who had himself sustained significant burns. Although the stranger tried numerous times, he was unable to save Ryan’s parents that day, and has never really forgotten the fiery inferno nor forgiven himself for his failures.
"Jonathan Hull builds a compelling, complicated and true-to-life novel that becomes something of a cross between old world romance and World War II historical.... This book has some rare and beautiful gems and glimpses into a different type of war story than readers may encounter elsewhere..."
Now in his 40s, Ryan realizes he’ll never recover from the trauma of that loss but remains remarkably hopeful and positive in spite of that, saving some glimmer of hope for himself out of the (perhaps misguided) belief that he will one day get peace and answers. Over the years, his rescuer (Mike O’Donnell) had become somewhat of a father figure. Ryan’s feelings for the old man continue to be appreciative but complicated, marked by some unexplained undying sense of gratitude, a shared connection through grief and post-traumatic stress, and a certain distance with which they both seem too comfortable.
Yet, where each is accustomed to sending the other a greeting card or letter every year, Mike one day fails to send the usual card on Ryan’s birthday, cluing him in that something is very wrong. Phoning Mike’s family, Ryan discovers the old man is on his death bed and declining quickly. This life-altering moment becomes the impetus for him to finally gather all his bravery and face the past full on, lowering Ryan’s barriers long enough to break lifelong patterns and take the biggest possible risk: to say goodbye, comfort him and open up his heart.
While visiting Mike’s family in Wyoming, however, Ryan meets the old man’s charming wife Alessandra, an aging native Italian beauty whose charming character and interesting life story make the book an engrossing page-turner. Ryan is also quite taken with her lovely daughter, Shannon, a woman who is very much like her mother but, unfortunately, also is married (though unhappily so.) Naturally, everyone is excited to see Ryan, and he and Shannon become much closer than either intend to be. Together, they enjoy the blissful peace of a simple ranch life in picturesque Wyoming farm country, after which the two begin their own private spiritual journeys into a disturbing world where Mike’s and Alessandra’s family secrets are laid bare, agonizingly. In the process, readers get the opportunity to jump back in time to a war-torn Italy in Mussolini’s age, in the years when German armies occupied Alessandra’s hometown.
This book has some rare and beautiful gems and glimpses into a different type of war story than readers may encounter elsewhere, detailing (sometimes poetically) the nitty-gritty aspects of war along with subtle nuances of love. Even in 1940s Italy, love is in the air everywhere, and the darkest hours are lit by the most human of emotions. This simple, grand story is full of tragedy and passion, political upheaval and death, and moral conundrums that center on the dangers of painting any one people or nation or uniform in shades of pure black or white. Here and there, readers will encounter glimpses into the ordinary culture of the Italian villas of that era, so in a sense, the book is less a true war story and more a unique family drama -- made more charming by the vagaries and power of love and relationships, and bonds that make life worth living.
THE DEVOTED is a tale of restoration, full of sentimentality, modern flair and grand romance.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on October 5, 2012