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Lisa Scottoline is the bestselling author of numerous legal and psychological thrillers. However, that description does nothing to convey to you the simple beauty and heartfelt emotional journey that readers will take with her first historical novel. ETERNAL is set during the ventennio, the 20 years of Mussolini’s reign of terror, and her characters battle a world in freefall from anything resembling their shared childhoods. This is the story of the struggle of anti-Fascists in World War II Rome.

The book’s protagonists grew up together: Elisabetta, an aspiring author and local beauty; Marco, the loud, athletic champion biker in a family of cyclists; and Sandro, a brainy mathematician whose Jewish heritage is upheld proudly by his professional educated parents. As the three become closer, a love triangle is created that will affect their lives forever. The Rome of their childhood is turning into something that they are terrified to witness.

"Scottoline should be congratulated for taking on such a despicable yet compelling topic and turning it into a searing, thoughtful and emotional story that will thrill her dedicated readers and newcomers alike."

Interesting fact: Scottoline has researched the Italian Holocaust for years, beginning as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. There she took a year-long seminar, “The Literature of the Holocaust,” taught by the late great Philip Roth. Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish chemist who was deported to Auschwitz during WWII but survived to write the memoir SURVIVAL IN AUSCHWITZ, was a primary source for that class. ETERNAL is the culmination of all that interest and effort to learn the truth about how it all went down.

Autumn 1937. Mussolini’s rise begins, and Fascism starts to separate Marco, a party member, and Sandro, the victim of their legal attacks. Friendships and romantic relationships are challenged by the chaos of the day and the threat to a life of traditional community-based living. The discriminatory race laws that the Fascists put into place are a very real and well-documented storyline that helps place the pre-WWII Italian landscape in the most threatening context. Scottoline’s scholarship has inflected every vowel and consonant in this gripping, thrilling tale of lives on the brink of countless changes.

The characters are so beautifully fleshed out that you feel as if you are reading someone’s family memoir. And Scottoline herself admits that some of these individuals are based on her own family members. The love affair and the biased world views are both multidimensional and balanced together in a magnificent achievement of literary construction. Perhaps Scottoline’s hard-earned research helped her see a more complete picture of the two worlds, one exterior and one interior, but both are damaging and challenging. Elisabetta, Marco and Sandro share a stage that is swift and ever-changing, which makes ETERNAL a truly outstanding work of historical fiction.

As Scottoline herself has said about the book, after her Roth experience, “Rome struck me as the best location for the novel, since its so-called Ghetto is home to the oldest continuously-existing Jewish Community in all of Western Civilization…. I learned about a horrific event that took place in the Ghetto in October 1943…. It was part of the Nazis’ plan to eradicate Rome’s Jews, but it wasn’t well-known outside the scholarship, and it needed to be.” Scottoline should be congratulated for taking on such a despicable yet compelling topic and turning it into a searing, thoughtful and emotional story that will thrill her dedicated readers and newcomers alike.

As Americans go through huge growing pains (hopefully leading to something positive) in terms of their own racist pasts, ETERNAL offers us hope. Somehow love really can save the day --- romantic love, brotherhood, spiritual love, love for a good nation and the democratic process. May the scholarship and literary invention of this extraordinary novel find a home in the hearts of readers everywhere.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on March 23, 2021

by Lisa Scottoline