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Lucia Fantini was once in love with life. The emotional heart
of her husband's village restaurant Aldo's, Lucia fed her many
customers' hearts even as the wonderful food fed their stomachs.
She nightly entertained the restaurants' guests with the music of
Verdi, Rossini and Puccini --- her country's most notable opera
composers. Dressed in beautiful gowns to complement the musical
selections, Lucia used her voice to elicit a romantic ambience,
even a marriage proposal or two. Surrounded by her many neighbors
and co-workers and her small but loving family (her husband Aldo
and her son Giuseppi, nicknamed Beppi), Lucia had a life full of
friends, family and music.

But that was before Benito Mussolini's fascist Blackshirts, and
then the German Nazis, seemed to infiltrate every corner of Italy.
Even Aldo's, once a safe harbor for Lucia's neighbors, has been
filled with hostile strangers. When Aldo dies, Lucia feels
estranged from her old life. Now she no longer sings for the love
of life --- instead, she substitutes the name of her favorite wine
(Lambrusco) for the words of her beloved arias, which have become
too painful to sing.

Lucia is not the only one mourning the loss of her old life. The
cooks and waiters at the restaurant --- and even some of their
children --- have become partisans, secretly plotting against the
fascist influences around them. Before long, Lucia has become the
perfect gun runner for the ragtag organization --- no one would
suspect this innocent-looking woman of hiding guns and ammunition
in bags of flour! But when Beppi blows up a German tank and then
goes on the run, Lucia's involvement with the resistance movement
takes on a new urgency. As she encounters old lovers and friends,
as well as new, unlikely allies, Lucia tries desperately to find
her son --- and a glimmer of that life she once knew.

The strongest aspect of Ellen Cooney's LAMBRUSCO is the
individuality with which she paints each of Lucia's friends and
acquaintances. Using distinctive dialogue, odd quirks and
individual foibles, Cooney manages to flesh out the large cast of
characters who flicker through Lucia's narrative. At times it still
can be difficult to keep track of the large number of partisans who
play more or less major roles in the novel, but her eye for detail
and ear for dialogue result in a richly embellished tapestry of the
people and places in Lucia's life.

Lucia's story is a fluid one, drifting freely --- and sometimes
abruptly --- from the present (as Lucia dodges hostile bullets and
wayward bombs) to the past (as she recalls better days, or
recollects first meetings with old friends) and even to pure
fantasy (as she imagines a conversation in which her favorite
composers argue their relative greatness). Despite its sometimes
dreamy tone and serious subject matter, Cooney's novel manages to
find humor, friendship and love in even the most surprising and
stressful circumstances. And despite its bleak moments, LAMBRUSCO,
like the wine of its title, offers a toast to the pleasures of


Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 30, 2010

by Ellen Cooney

  • Publication Date: April 22, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon
  • ISBN-10: 0375424962
  • ISBN-13: 9780375424960