Vatican City is the smallest, neutral, independent sovereign country in the world, occupying one fifth of a square mile within Rome. Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and seven associates who refer to themselves as “the Choir” risked their lives to smuggle thousands of Jews and escaped Allied prisoners out of Italy under the Gestapo boss in charge of the area, Obersturmbannführer Paul Hauptmann.
In September 1943 German forces moved in to occupy Rome. The only safe place to hide would be in Vatican City. Hiding people in various areas and exercising extreme caution, the Choir used aliases and forged IDs. They referred to the people they had hidden as “books” and hiding places as “shelves.” Like a thriller, the subterfuge they had to use and the threat of danger is ever present, only the heroes here are doing so out of love and faith.
The writing is exceptional and the characters, who vary widely, are all brought to life as realistic individuals. They are not perfect people, but they are all willing to risk their lives to save others. Hauptmann is a seriously ruthless adversary who knows people are being smuggled out and escaping. O’Connor’s prose is wonderfully descriptive and detailed, bringing the setting and the characters to life. The emotional impact of this novel is also ever present.
Chapters tell the story about what happened in 1943, but the details are told through the various points-of-view of members of the choir twenty years later. This allows them to also to share their personal reflections about what happened. My Father’s House is the first book in a new trilogy.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher via Edelweiss.