“Shadow Song by Anita Morrish is set against the backdrop of World War II-ravaged Rome, Italy. The story follows the lives of a young art student, Francesca, who works at an opera house and a young doctor who’s just returned from the war, Carlo. Both are involved in the underground resistance, risking their lives for the greater good while secrets lurk in every corner, and they don’t know who is trustworthy.

The author’s choice to set the story during World War II opens the window to a large audience. World War II fiction is a popular historical context, and these stories are often inspiring and harrowing and speak across decades about the human condition. Both the hope and the devastation from the events of the 1940s touch on the best and the worst of humanity. No one can or should forget the atrocities from such a war, nor can or should anyone forget the heroism of many who risked and gave their lives for the greater good. Shadow Song occurs after the end of 1943 after Mussolini is overthrown, yet the Germans still occupy and control Italy, so the tensions of who to trust among fellow citizens is high. The Allies are fighting to drive out the Germans, but between Italian fascists and the resistance, the everyday person lives a daily balancing act. Morrish’s story touches on how characters like Francesca and Carlo just want to survive and be able to live their lives, yet they are willing to work for the resistance and put their lives on the line. Such stories, even fictional, move deeply within what it means to be human, to strive for a better world.

Morrish’s characters, although not based on real people, come alive on the pages. She uses dialogue effectively to give them life as they interact. Her use of the theater and music adds flavor to the scenes in the opera house. Without hearing the music with our ears, we feel it in our minds and hearts when Francesca and Giorgio, an actor and singer, confess their love. The reader is invested in the characters and feels what they feel because the author has done an effective, compelling job with description and realistic dialogue. The story’s backdrop may be contingent on real events and the timeline of World War II; however, it is Morrish’s characters who drive the narrative forward.

The pace is steady throughout and grips the reader from the first chapter, keeping one guessing what the outcome will be in the end. We know the outcome of the war, but the question that begs the reader’s mind is what happens specifically to these characters.

Morrish brings historical details, like blackout shades, curfews, and rations into the narrative, which are imperative to historical fiction. Lovers of historical fiction enjoy such attention to detail to bring out the flavor of the time period.

The language is clear and concise throughout the book; however, some of the scenes are short and are rendered choppy, at times. Overall, this does not detract from the flow or enjoyment of the narrative.

Shadow Song is a gripping, heart-wrenching World War II tale that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished. Anita Morrish’s story is filled with inspiration that people can act for what is right in the face of adversity and tragic circumstances. Shadow Song is a must-read for lovers of World War II fiction.”

The Book Review Directory

“Set in German occupied Rome, ‘Shadow Song’ by Anita Morrish follows some of the city’s inhabitants as they build friendships, fall in love and do everything they can to do what’s right and stay alive. This historical fiction tale is a tapestry that weaves many threads. We learn about Francesca, an art student who becomes enamoured by a singer and finds work at the opera house, as well as a way that she can support the resistance. We also meet Carlo, an army doctor returning to Rome after avoiding arrest and still of use to Allied Intelligence. I worked my way through the book curious to know what would connect each of the characters, while also including the threat from the German police, the poverty of rationing and the uncertainty and threat of possible surveillance but hope for the future. I liked that so much content was provided throughout the novel, but it didn’t detract from the characters’ stories at any time. A detailed plot filled with lots of well-drawn characters, each with their own unique motives and goals, which are revealed as you move through the story.”

Charlotte Walker, A Lovereading Ambassador,

“In the shadow of war and resistance, a young couple struggle to stay alive in Morrish’s engrossing historical tale. War is ravaging Italy, with the Allies bombing Rome while the city remains occupied by the Germans. In their struggle to survive, most of the city’s residents join the burgeoning resistance. Francesca, an art student, is content working at Rome’s opera house, but soon realizes that nothing is as it seems. Meanwhile, Carlo, an army doctor, who has fled Rome four years ago, returns unexpectedly and realizes that turning his back on the past is not as easy as it seems. As the duo join the resistance, they realize that they cannot escape danger. Can they survive until Rome is liberated? This is an impressive historical drama that includes a moving peek at the aftermaths of World War II and what it means to strive for a better world but tempers intense emotionalism with sensitive romance elements. Both Francesca and Carlo are fully developed characters who long to experience the unpredictable chaos of a normal life without fear of war, but there’s fear and misperception – theirs and those of the people around them – that they have to navigate before they can find happiness. Sensitive and determined, Francesca is easy to like. In the troubled and hard-bitten, but vulnerable Carlo, Morrish has created a memorable character who will stay on the reader’s mind for long. Morrish beautifully peels away the layers of Carlo’s life, revealing how hard it has been for him to be back in a place he fled years ago. Struggling to find a balance as the Allies fight to drive out the Germans while the Italian fascists and the resistance wreak havoc in people’s lives, Francesca and Carlo’s story makes you feel the enduring grace to be found even during the most horrendous circumstances.

Plotwise, the core story is pretty straightforward: the novel tracks Francresca and Carlo’s involvement in the underground resistance. But the character’s interpersonal dynamic is a critical part of this novel, giving depth and a much-needed sense of surprise to the story. Their struggle with personal desires versus humanity raise questions of what it means to humans and how simply existing and thriving are two different things. Through Francesca and Carlo’s story, Morrish recognizes the cycles in which both her characters and the nations remain trapped, cycles of suffering and war, with people struggling with grief and trauma. Yet for all this, the novel is full of indestructible love and relentless hope. Fans of historical drama will be enthralled.”

The Prairies Book Review

Shadow Song by Anita Morrish is a fiction novel based on events in and around Rome from July 1943 to June 1944. Following Eisenhower’s approval of the Italian government’s request for an armistice, the Germans attack Rome. Opposition forces exist around Rome, and following Rome’s occupation by Germany, several Roman soldiers join these forces.

Francesca lives in Rome with her family. Her brother, Roberto, is one of the soldiers that fled to join those forces around Rome, and she hopes to see him return home. However, that can only happen when the Germans are defeated. She meets a tenor singer called Giorgio and falls in love with him. He recruits her to be part of the activities of the opposition forces. However, what would she do when Giorgio is captured by the Germans? Can she help her brother return home? What is her role in the opposition?

Carlo, an army doctor, has returned to Rome after getting shot at Sicily. Before his return, however, he is recruited by a partisan force to aid the exchange of intelligence around Rome. He gets a job as a doctor in a hospital where Francesca’s friends work. What happens when Carlo rekindles an old love interest that is under the watchful eyes of the Germans? How would Carlo and Francesca help achieve Rome’s liberation? Would they get caught?

I laud Morrish’s ability to incorporate events into real-life accounts in a way that people who have little or no knowledge of those historical accounts would mistake them for real events. I had to browse about the events that took place between Germany and Italy during that period to differentiate the real and fictitious parts of this novel.

Another thing I like about this publication is the way the author makes readers fall in love and root for several characters. I knew what the outcome of the war was going to be, but I didn’t know if my favourite characters would make it to the end, and that kept me on the edge of my seat, hoping for the best. I also like that the author didn’t try to force the story into a happy ending for any character. Anybody could have been caught by the Germans and anybody could have been killed. Readers are going to be shocked by some of the happenings in the read. I would stop there because I don’t want to provide any spoilers.

I didn’t dislike anything about this 390-page book. The plot was excellent and engaging. I enjoyed seeing the events unfold through Carlo’s and Francesca’s eyes. The third-person narration, dialogue between the characters, and their internal monologues helped me understand each character’s personality. Additionally, I appreciated the map that was included at the beginning of the novel. The map helped me have a good idea of the relative positions of different places.

I have no reason to rate this publication any less than 4 out of 4 stars. Moreover, the text is professionally edited; I found only a few errors that didn’t detract from my reading experience. Readers interested in historical fiction books would enjoy this read. Readers that like war stories would also find this one interesting. Happy reading!”

“Shadow Song by Anita Morrish mesmerizes readers with its strong characterization, deft plotting, and gorgeous writing. While Rome is not yet captured, it is besieged by enemy forces who consistently bomb the city. The inhabitants are under curfew and many join the growing resistance to liberate Rome. While the threat of war and devastation continues to grow, Francesca, a gifted art student, finds work at the opera house where she has to work her wits in order to understand the mystery of the place. A war doctor, Carlo, returns home to Rome after four years and to a past he thought he has left behind. Follow Carlo and Francesca as they navigate a dangerous world, struggling to survive long enough to see Rome liberated.

There is so much to love in Shadow Song, starting with the setting in the period immediately following the fall of Mussolini. From the very start of the story, the author presents readers with the prevailing sense of freedom that punctuated life in Rome after the fall of Mussolini, freedom celebrated with festivities and people being able to gather and talk without fear of being captured. Francesca can walk by the river freely, looking for something to sketch. But the sense of liberty is short-lived as the Allies make progress towards Rome. The backstories of the characters are woven into a historical fabric that illuminates the story and transports readers to the WWII era. The historical hints are masterfully written, highlighted by the intelligently written social and political commentaries and the author’s ability to root backstories into history. Carlo, for instance, is a character who is genuinely flawed and whose past gives depth to his character. He is someone who lost the woman he loved, Alessandra, to the cruelty of Mussolini’s men. The story of the murder of Alessandra’s parents, her decision to join the resistance, which eventually led to her capture and Carlo’s escape from Rome is among the captivating backstories that enrich the plot and deepen characterization.

Readers will be lifted by the humanity and resilience of the characters and will be keen on feeling the seasons of the souls of Carlo and Francesca as they follow the characters from page to page until the exciting and emotionally rich climax: “A tear ran down Francesca’s cheek and she went to brush it away, but Giorgio’s hand was there first. He smiled and, when the blackbird’s song blended with his, Francesca smiled too.” Anita Morrish is a gifted storyteller whose work features beautiful and crisp prose, characters that are nuanced, and plot points that never loosen their grip on the readers.”

Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo, The Book Commentary, June 7, 2022

“I really liked this story set in World War 2 with Italy entering the war and including Mussolini.

The tense atmosphere was captured perfectly as events began to impact the characters. The best part for me was wondering what had happened to one of the characters Roberto. War is devastating but a lot of books don’t focus on how much one person matters. Isabella had to keep going despite the fact that her brother Roberto was missing. It was interesting to see how other family members handled things.

I really liked how the whole town was impacted as the war continued and some went missing and how life was becoming different. Papers had to be checked. Rations and the disappearances just added to the tension. Some people kept positive, some became suspicious and others were down and I liked the range of characters and felt it was ambitious to include a wider range of people but it worked.

I also like how it captured people resisting but lack of communication and support made things hard. Needing someone to order handing out weapons but the senior people were already engaged elsewhere so the soldiers didn’t know what to do. I liked the fact that the King left and people became anxious as you need your leaders with you!

I had to keep reading to find out what Isabella was going to do. What choices was she going to face?

I rate this 5 out of 5 stars! The reason I give 5 is I loved the tone and felt I was with the characters as they were dealing with the unfolding situations.” ARA Review by MikeCyberMillion 16 April 2023

“Anita Morrish’s Shadow Song is a novel that defies strict genre classification. In this adventure saga, we first meet Francesca. a young Italian woman hoping to better herself as an artist amidst the turmoil of WWII. She soon finds herself with a design opportunity at an opera house that appeals to her love of operatic singing. She hopes to keep this opportunity from her mother and father, a police detective, as they believe she is fully committed to her university studies.

Soon after, Carlo, a doctor and Italian army veteran, returns to Rome after being wounded in Sicily, to work again with his father Michele, also a doctor. His father brings him to the opera theater to treat a singer, and there he meets Francesca and her friends and colleagues.

Carlo and Francesca eventually learn that some of the group work with the partisans, and they suspect that at least one works for the Nazis. Both must make personal decisions: to support the partisans or stay neutral. Supporting the authorities was out of the question. Eventually, the decision is forced upon each of them, and each becomes a matter of life or death.

I enjoyed Anita Morrish’s novel, especially her description of Rome’s centro storico, taking me through the neighbourhoods of Sant’Angelo, Regola, Pigna and Campitelli. The description of the street scenes made me believe I was in 1940s Rome. The author’s love of Rome was clearly evident.

The gripping story, while having romantic themes between several pairs of characters, was multi-faceted, with aspects of adventure, history and mystery. The author interwove the stories of the multiple characters around the events and locations of the period, with the historic events and locale adding depth to the story. The multiple story arcs added tension and maintained my interest, and some arcs were heart-wrenching. I especially enjoyed the behind-the scenes look at an Italian opera house, and it felt as if I were backstage in the theater.

I felt the suffering of the characters caused by the lack of food, mistreatment at the hands of those in authority, and even the pschological insecurity of not knowing what tomorrow might bring. The descriptions of the horrific actions of the Nazis and fascisti captured the terror that all Italians must have felt. The stories of partisan resistance activities felt genuine, and elicited sympathy for those who stood up against oppression even at the risk to their own lives. Through it all, the principal characters maintained their optimism and hope for a return to normalcy.

I enjoyed the Italian language and idioms interspersed and I would have enjoyed more of these. The story was told through the point-of-view of Francesca and Carlo. and the POVs were indicated by chapter titles using the characters’ names. If the same character continued into the next chapter, however, the name was not repeated. Once or twice, when picking up the book again following a break, I needed to backtrack to confirm the current POV. I would have preferred it being indicated for every chapter.

I found that some abrupt transistions between scenes, especially in the final quarter of the book, to be the only negative. For that reason, I rate it a 4 out of 5. All in all, I enjoyed stepping into 1940s Rome and embracing the culture and the spirit of its people. I recommend Shadow Song for fans of all historical fiction, but especially of stories set in tentieth-century Italy. I look forward to more stories like these from Ms Morrish.” ARA Review by D.J.Paolini on 27 March 2024

Articles of Interest

These articles are about stories and places that I discovered when researching Shadow Song. I hope you enjoy them.

The Tiberina Island

The boat-shaped island is perched in the middle of the River Tiber, close to the heart of Rome. It takes only a minute to walk from east to west but this island boasts two hospitals, two churches, three bridges and countless stories.

The Route to Rome

It is the autumn of 1943. Imagine picking your way in the dark, down uneven stone steps to the cove. This is the first part of your journey from Ischia, through German-held territory, to occupied Rome.

The Tiberina Island

The boat-shaped island is perched in the middle of the River Tiber, close to the heart of Rome. It takes only a minute to walk from east to west but this island boasts two hospitals, two churches, three bridges and countless stories.

The Route to Rome

It is the autumn of 1943. Imagine picking your way in the dark, down uneven stone steps to the cove. This is the first part of your journey from Ischia, through German-held territory, to occupied Rome.

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