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By Dan De Neve

Internationally bestselling and local author Anita Hughes, writing as Anita Abriel, has published her third historical fiction novel about World War II, entitled, A Girl During the War. 

Fast-paced and set in wartime Italy in 1943, the story follows university student Marina Tozzi. When Marina comes home to a tragedy, she flees to Florence. There, she finds refuge at the villa of Bernard Berenson and his partner, Bella de Costa Greene. 

At the villa, Marina assists with cataloguing works of art, books, and other documents. While preparing the priceless items for safe storage away from the looting Nazis, Marina befriends neighbors Carlos and Desi, eventually leading to a romance between Marina and Carlos. 

Like Marina, Carlos is doing his part in the fight against the Nazis, but as a partisan protecting Jews. Following the war, Marina and Carlos find themselves in Argentina, as Marina has taken a job in Buenos Aires, but things aren’t what they appear to be.

There is much to commend in this book. Lovers of art and travel will enjoy it. The images in the book are vivid and come to life. Although this is historical fiction, the author has done her research and weaved the fiction into the actual history. 

For example, Berenson and Greene were a real-life couple. The characters have depth and are believable. Marina is likeable and intelligent, although somewhat naive. Carlos is not what you think he is, and Desi is a sweet, likeable young lady caught in an impossible position, but still a perfect friend for Marina. 

Furthermore, will Marina and Carlos’ relationship survive the war, despite what they had or felt they needed to do? What makes this book stand out is the theme of saving precious art from the Nazis. 

In recent years, this subject matter has been brought to light, especially with The Monuments Men, but the subject is still underrepresented in the mainstream. In light of recent research, Hughes also represents Pope Pius XII correctly. 

Finally, she addresses Nazi occupation and how it impacted civilian life and relationships. 

World War II and historical fiction fans will also enjoy this book. I enjoyed the novel and recommend it, as it will keep readers interested in the outcome of its characters and events.

Anita Hughes will be at the Dana Point Library on Saturday, May 28, from 2-4 p.m. to discuss the book, her writing, and writing in general. There will be a book signing to follow. 

Her other World War II historical fiction novels include The Light After the War and Lana’s War. For more information, call the library at 949.496.5517.

Dan DeNeve is a longtime employee of the Orange County Public Library. He currently works at the Dana Point Library as the Adult Services Librarian. He is an avid reader of history, biographies and sports.

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