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Book review: ‘From Sand and Ash’ tells of beauty, anguish in World War II Italy

"FROM SAND AND ASH," by Amy Harmon, Lake Union Publishing, $14.95, 375 pages (f)

Batsheva "Eva" Rosselli has always been an Italian first and a Jew second. Her family, country and violin — as well as her best friend, Angelo Bianco — make up the core of her life. Unrelated, but raised together since children, Eva and Angelo have regarded each other as siblings, or at least cousins. Then adulthood hits and they realize their affections have blossomed into something stronger.

While love between two people in Italy normally wouldn’t be a problem, in this instance it is. Angelo is a Catholic priest, Eva is a Jew and Hitler’s army is sweeping throughout Europe, inciting death and destruction.

Although Eva and Angelo’s story is fiction, the focus of “From Sand and Ash,” a beautiful and compelling novel by Amy Harmon, the settings and instances surrounding the two aren’t, giving the book a glorious realism that is at times brutally yet compellingly honest. As Italy joins the Axis powers, Eva learns that her forgotten religion defines her in a way she never considered. And as Angelo immerses himself deeper in his faith, he realizes that the love he has for Eva isn’t as easy to bury as he’d assumed.

Harmon’s writing is unparalleled in its depth and purpose. Reading this glorious historical fiction is to become immersed in Italian culture and the world of the 1940s. Each line holds meaning and Harmon is a storyteller gifted at making readers feel each character’s emotions.

“From Sand and Ash” has a handful of profanities, crudities and violence, including murder and torture, that are typical of World War II atrocities. Romance consists of several kissing scenes, one scene involving nudity and another that, although it never goes into sexual details, is fraught with emotion.

A native Utahn and best-selling author, Harmon is a wife, mother and previous Whitney Awards winner. "From Sand and Ash" is a 2016 Whitney Award finalist in the historical fiction category. The Whitney Awards recognize novels by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elizabeth Reid has bachelor's degrees in economics and history. A wife and mother, she loves learning people's love stories and blogs about her own at