Saving Madonna by Kate Bristow


Saving Madonna
by Kate Bristow



Inspired by real events, an unforgettable story of love, courage and sacrifice to save a country’s heritage.

Italy 1943. As the Allies bomb Milan, Elena Marchetti reluctantly gives up her coveted job as an art curator in the city to return to her family farm near Urbino. She takes up a new role assisting Pasquale Rotondi, the Superintendent of Arts in the region, in protecting works of art from all over Italy that have been hidden in the relative safety of the countryside.

At a family celebration, Elena reunites with Luca, a close childhood friend. A shattering event instigated by the occupying Germans deepens their relationship, and they start planning a life together. When rumours surface that Italy’s art is being stolen by the German occupiers, Pasquale hatches an audacious plan to rescue the priceless paintings in his possession. Elena and Luca are forced to make an impossible decision: will they embark on a dangerous mission to save Italy’s cultural heritage?



I have so many good things to say about this book, I don't know where to start... Perhaps with a question. What is the importance of art in our lives? The story revolves around a mission to help Signor Rotundi (superintendent responsible for art in Le Marche) transport pieces of art to the Vatican including paintings, sculptures, and manuscripts. But this is not just any mission.

The story of how works of art and other cultural treasures were saved during the Second World War has been fixed in many people’s minds by the renown of the Monuments Men and the Hollywood dramatization of their role. 

Elena tries to convince her family that Luca, her childhood sweetheart is doing the right thing in being part of the mission.

“Luca is doing what he thinks is right. He understands that we need an Italy of enlightenment and beauty, not an Italy of brutality, death and darkness. That's what the art represents and helping to save the art is going to help save part of Italy’s soul.”

The author takes great pains to explain how important this is. Art gives meaning to our lives and helps us understand our world. It is an essential part of our culture because it allows us to have a deeper understanding of our emotions; it increases our self-awareness, and also allows us to be open to new ideas and experiences. Yet the danger of removing the art right from under the noses of the German soldiers is not without danger.

A daring plan needs strong tenacious characters with resolve and courage. The author does not disappoint. Elena, sixteen years of age. Headstrong and determined, she immediately engages with the reader, sharing her emotions and vulnerabilities She knows she has a duty to her family, to help and support them but she has an overriding sense of purpose to make her own, vital contribution to the war effort by protecting something she loves.

This story packs a punch in every way. It is beautifully written and flows effortlessly in between the brutality of war, and the intensity of moral energy by the Italians to fight their German oppressors. There is darkness and a sense of foreboding but there is also lightness. As someone who lives in the next region to the one where this novel is set, the way in which the author describes the Italian strong sense of community and loyalty to one another is completely real.  Italian life, even in wartime is depicted with authenticity and credibility. The family is the only social unit that is considered complete and forever. Nonna’s birthday party is an occasion where all the local farmers and their families come together to celebrate, enjoy each other's company and forget the atrocities going on around them.

‘For one evening, music and laughter rang out across the valley as they had not done in weeks. The women of the household were serving the older adults and young children as they sat at long trestle tables. The young adults were milling around the platters, helping themselves. Despite the wartime deprivations and rations, the spread was impressive. Glistening portions of suckling pig and rabbit, platters of wild mushroom ravioli, slices of prosciutto and salami that had been painstakingly cured for months by Luca’s uncle.'

The love story which runs through the novel is charming and endearing albeit predictable as local families often intermarried. Two close farming families, one with a son, Luca and one with a daughter, Elena who had known each other since childhood. It was their destiny to be together even when the ravages and horrors of war took their toll.

“‘We’ve been close ever since I can remember,” said Luca. “I’ve wanted you for the longest time.” He pulled her towards him and they lay in the straw, intertwined. Elena felt a surge of emotion. I want to keep this man safe, she thought.”

 Why I recommend this book:

Stories have the power to captivate a reader and dazzle them into happiness, amazement, anger, or outrage at injustice. They grip the imagination and can transport you to a different world. This book is no exception. This is a gripping story of resilience, tragedy, love, courage and strength in unbelievable circumstances, which I could not put down. It is compelling and beautifully written.  The author tells us that it is a book of fiction inspired by real events and people, so I commend her research as well as her imagination. It is a poignant and powerful and shattering narrative, a reminder of the sheer horrors that so many endured during the war. But there has to be a purpose, a reason to keep fighting. We know that the Germans pursued a policy of collective punishment. Dozens of massacres occurred in Italy, sometimes entire villages so the incredible combined bravery of the partigiani, the art curator and the local townsfolk has to be praised. These stories need to be retold and kept alive. It’s the least the survivors deserve. A beautiful book.


‘Sig. Pasquale gestured at Bellini’s Madonna with the sleeping baby and said emphatically, “This is worth risking everything for. Look at it – its humanity, its luminescence. Without art, we are mere brutes.” ‘




Kate Bristow was born in London. She fell in love with reading when she got her first library card at the age of four. Her first attempt at writing and publishing for a wide audience was a local newspaper typed laboriously at home on her mother’s typewriter while at primary (elementary) school in north London. It is surely a loss to cutting-edge journalism that only one issue was ever produced. Kate divides her time between her small-but-perfectly-formed modern home in Los Angeles and her five-hundred-year-old farmhouse just outside Sassocorvaro in Italy.





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  1. This looks like a great novel. Thanks for hosting this giveaway.

  2. Thank you so much for this lovely review - I really appreciate it.

  3. Brilliant review and I agree with every word you have written. Kate has told a very important story and I had the privilege of meeting her this summer where we shared lots of laughter and writing matters. I wish her the very best of luck. In bocca al lupo.


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