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Book Review: Jennifer Robson’s ‘Our Darkest Night’

Author Jennifer Robson

Inspired by true events, Our Darkest Night is a story about selflessness, resilience, sacrifice, and love during German-occupied Italy throughout the Second World War. This is interesting as not many books have been set in this part of war-torn Europe.

Jennifer Robson is a bestselling author of six novels, including The Gown, Moonlight Over Paris, and now with her recent book Our Darkest Night, she continues to captivate her audience through fiction inspired by European history. Jennifer obtained her doctorate in British economics and social history at the University of Oxford, and currently works as a full-time writer in Toronto.

This being her first novel based outside her usual settings in England and France, Jennifer approached the book with great sensitivity. “I don’t think any book can ever capture the reality of what happened in the Holocaust… but I also don’t think that means that we shouldn’t try… so it’s kind of one of these things I went into it knowing I could never write a perfect book on this subject,” says Jennifer in a conversation, presentedby Harper Collins Canada, with Elizabeth Renzetti.

In October of 1942, as German troops begin arresting Jewish people in the cities of Italy at an alarming rate, Antonina Mazin’s father decides she must leave Venice. Luckily for Antonina, Niccolò Gerardi, a kind-hearted Christian farmer, agrees to pose as her husband, concealing her secret and keeping her safe on his family farm in the Italian countryside. Antonina must leave everything she’s ever known behind, including her name. Now as Nina Gerardi, she must make the grueling journey to Mezzo Ciel where she learns to adjust to life on the farm.

Mezzo Ciel

Taking place between 1942 and 1946, during the peak and eventual end of the war, Our Darkest Night follows the most challenging years of the Gerardi family’s lives in German-occupied Italy.

The imagery featured within Our Darkest Night is intensely vivid, largely because Jennifer pulled inspiration from places she has actually visited, and people she has known closely, including her husband’s Italian family, some of whom were alive during the Holocaust. Her collection of images from her time exploring the Italian settings of the novel are available on her website, but to avoid spoilers, Jennifer suggests viewing the archive after finishing the book.

One of the most touching aspects of the book is the beautiful friendship forged between Nina and Nico. Nico becomes the confidant Nina craves, and their friendship grows into a deeper, genuine bond. The author’s gentle approach to romance is appealing and engages the reader completely. Wonderfully wholesome, their natural bond reels you in, compelling you to wish nothing but the best for them.

Here’s The Rundown

Magnificent Imagery: Robson does a fantastic job of depicting a story so vivid that you feel Nina’s pain as she nurses wounds from the long journey away from home. You smell the olive tree in the courtyard of Niccolò’s farm. You see the old buildings with cracking stucco in the Piazza in Mezzo Ciel, and the narrow streets of Venice that lead to Antonina’s rosy-bricked home with the green door. The imagery creates an immersive experience that will keep the reader engaged throughout the entire story.

Mezzo Ciel, Italy

Nuanced Plot: The story is filled with a wonderfully executed mixture of romance and suspense, the little moments carrying as much impact as major plot points. For example, at the beginning of the story Nico carries Nina’s bag on their journey to Mezzo Ciel. It seems to be a small gesture on the surface, but one that tells Nina that Nico is kind, and eases her fear. The balance of intensity builds a story that captivates and warms your heart all at once.

Depiction of Family: The uniquely strong bonds of Nico’s family and their love for one another is obvious and impossible to forget. This is a family that can sacrifice anything and everything for one another.

Characters You’ll Root for: In a story, if you don’t like the protagonist that you are supposed to, it can sometimes throw you off the book entirely. That won’t happen to you while reading Our Darkest Night. Every member of Nico and Nina’s family, despite their flaws, make you root for their happiness. The characters are so realistically written that the reader connects to them in different ways, building a deeper connection to the story.

A Lesser-Known Piece of History: I’ve read a lot of historical fiction based throughout WWII, but this story centred around an Italian-Jewish woman is very memorable. It’s easy to forget that the Holocaust affected more than just Germany, but reading Our Darkest Night re-enforces the tragic impact of the Holocaust across Europe.

If you’re looking for a book with memorable characters struggling with devastating loss, an inspiring depiction of family, love, and individual strength and a story both beautiful and uplifting, I highly recommend Our Darkest Night. It is a book that will stay with you long after you have finished reading it.

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