Justice, by Carey Harrison deals with the horrors of the holocaust and genocide — but amongst the very many books that stare into this particular abyss, it is unique in that it leaves you with the feeling that there is hope. Healing happens.
The setting is a small village on the mountainous coast of Italy, and the winding rocky trails through woods that reveal sudden ocean vistas form a rich backdrop to this tale that spans three generations. Carey Harrison has clearly walked these hills and considered how time and political events have changed this landscape as the conniving and greed that fuels post war politics and real estate development also factor into the story.
The plot pivots on a deadly act of revenge, a carefully nursed murderous scheme with innocent victims under cover of war — and the question of justice that turns out to be transformative for the survivors.
This story is also about beauty, love, romantic love, maternal love, the love of true and treasured friendship, and the transformative power of compassion. It’s also about World War II. Fascism and its attendant anti-semitism enters in, as the political becomes personal in a very small town.
The main character, Miri, is described by a local bookseller, named Angelo Baldini — who becomes over time her dearest friend and chronicler — as:
“a gorgeous, shy, 18 year-old Jewish blue-stocking with spectacles and small, bruised looking, pretty features in a pale round face, gazing very seriously at my bookshelves.”
She comes to the village as an English tourist visiting family friends, and falls in love with the local young count, Piero.
“To her it was as if he had leapt off a Greek vase or a classical fresco with his golden locks, bronzed supple limbs, and soft skin. Miri had been sick with love for him on sight, and so amazed at the existence of such a being that she stood simply staring at him and forgot to take off her glasses and ‘make the best of herself’ in her mother’s dispiriting phrase.”
She makes her life with him and binds her fate with his life and his village. Although he has technically renounced his title, he delights in its privileges and Miri is accepted and honored as the Contessa by the townspeople.
Baldini, the bookseller who is also the narrator of the story, is also an important figure in it: he is one of very few Jewish villagers and suffers a similar fate.
Both of these characters question their own Jewishness and what that means to them-and to the world. Both of them escape the horrors of the concentration camp purely by chance, but in penance, or survivor’s guilt, must revisit them in their minds eye. These two suffer deep a loss as anyone could ever suffer — and yet, after a time, their lives are not without hope. And love. And beauty. These characters are very real. And they stay with you.
Harrison’s writing is delicious. His authorial voice rings true. His descriptions of place are sensual and detailed and knowing. He has an exquisite vocabulary. You can smell the pines, taste the pinoli — and his characters are people you come to care about.
And the book is lovely. The cover, type, even the size of it — you don’t have to wear glasses or worry if you will finish it in time for your next book club meeting. It is a quick read and begs you not to put it down. And when you finish it, you, like the characters in it, will also feel transformed. What more can you ask of a book?
Justice, by Carey Harrison. Published by Dr. Cicero Books, available from Amazon and Kindle now, and from bookstores more widely in the fall.