Review: Solitaria by Genni Gunn

September 7, 2011 Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery/Suspense, Review 8

  • Paperback:256 pages
  • Publisher:Signature Editions (September 1, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1897109431
  • Source: Publisher

When a work crew at an abandoned villa in a small Italian town uncovers a body, an investigation begins to determine the identity. It is revealed that the body is that of Vito Santoro, a man whose family believed to be living in Argentina for the past several decades.  Due to a family strife, no one had spoken to Vito in years.  That is, except for Piera, the matriarch of the Santoro family.

As the family reunites, Piera locks herself in her room, refusing to speak with anyone but her nephew, David, currently living in Canada.  Piera is the only one who knows the secrets behind Vito’s death and eventually reveals the sordid past to her nephew, taking the reader on flashbacks to post-war Italy.   The truth that is revealed is a disturbing one, full of family secrets, including incest.  Bloodlines David long believed to be accurate are retraced and he is forced to reckon with an almost unacceptable truth.

Don’t let the description above detract you from reading this powerful novel; it is rich with family history, deeply moving and passionate. The reader learns a great deal about Vito, the child of an impoverished family, always the black sheep among his siblings.  As a child, he was routinely sent away to live with other family members, to join the military, etc. as an attempt to control his wild streak.  Each time he returned, he seemed less and less a part of the family.

The Santoro family is riddled with family issues, going back for decades.  The strife among family members continues with the current generation, Piera’s siblings angry for her keeping this secret for so long. Gunn does a tremendous job of detailing the lives of this family: 7 children, a strict, almost abusive father, and a passive mother. The only characters I found to be sympathetic at all were David and Piera, but I still questioned just how much I could trust them, Piera in particular. Her memories seemed to be jaded due to her own feelings toward Vito.

Gunn’s descriptions of the Santoro family’s history and traditions allow the ready to become easily immersed in the Italian culture. The novel is evenly paced, allowing the reader to become immersed in the rich historical detail while trying to simultaneously solve the family’s mystery. As mentioned above, the theme of incest exists, but is not overpowering. Fans of novels with rich characters as well as fans of historical fiction will be impressed by this novel, long-listed for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize, an award recognizing excellence in Canadian fiction. Recommended.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a special guest post by the author, Genni Gunn.

8 Responses to “Review: Solitaria by Genni Gunn”

  1. iubookgirl
    Twitter: iubookgirl

    This sounds very intriguing. I love mysteries and historical fiction, so I’ll definitely add this to my TBR list. Thanks!

  2. rhapsodyinbooks

    Sounds like it would make a great movie! (of course, to me, anything that can sneak in Italian culture seems like the makings of a good movie!)

  3. Melan of Innocent

    Dear Jenn,

    I was trying to follow you on twitter, but it says that you have “blocked” me. Why dear? Any reason – that I can know?

    Looking forward to get connected!


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