“The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom” by Alison Love
Published by Broadway Books (Penguin Random House)
Length: 336 pages
Description: The first meeting between Antonio and Olivia at the Paradise Ballroom is brief, but electric. Years later, on the dawn of World War II, when struggling Italian singer Antonio meets the wife of his wealthy new patron, he recognizes her instantly: it is Olivia, the captivating dance hostess he once encountered in the seedy Paradise Ballroom. Olivia fears Antonio will betray the secrets of her past, but little by little they are drawn together, outsiders in a glittering world to which they do not belong. At last, with conflict looming across Europe, the attraction between them becomes impossible to resist–but when Italy declares war on England, the impact threatens to separate them forever. The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is a story of forbidden love and family loyalties amid the most devastating war in human history.
Never have I read such a poignant tale about immigrant life in England during World War II. In fact, I have read several novels over the past few months that take place in WWII-era London, but the immigrant stories have been largely overlooked.
“The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom” by Alison Love is considered a love story at heart, but to me it was much more about the struggles of an Italian-British family to survive despite their homeland country being at war with their new country. What does “home” mean and where do your loyalties truly lie when you can never really belong to either country?
I adore reading historical fiction above most any other genre, and perhaps being a product of immigrant culture myself, this book affected me personally. The novel portrays the story of the Trombetta family, an Italian family who emigrated to England for opportunity, and the Rodway family. The Rodways are a couple – Bernard, an eccentric member of high society, and his wife Olivia who was a dance hostess at a club before marrying.
However, the Trombetta family were much more at the center of the plot detailing the lives of Enrico, the father and patriarch, his two sons Antonio and Valentino, his daughter Filomena, and their love affairs. Alison Love does a great job of capturing the familial hierarchy of the Trombetta family, particularly the antiquated roles of males versus females, depicting how decisions were made and how each member reacted and was affected by the onslaught of fascism in a war-torn time.
Weaving in little known historical events such as the immigrant internment camps in England and the deportation of thousands to Australia, Love captures the time excellently without making the story over sensational or unrealistic. The book itself is a fairly easy read, but the depth of the story is heartbreakingly beautiful.
*I received this Early Review copy of the book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.