Book Review: The Light in the Ruins – Chris Bohjalian

The Light in the Ruins coverTitle: The Light in the Ruins
Author: Chris Bohjalian
ISBN: 9780385534819
Pages: 320
Release Date: July 9, 2013
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5


The year is 1955, and a young woman has been found brutally murdered in Florence, with her heart cut out of her chest. Serafina Betteni, Florence’s first female homicide detective, is assigned to the case. But what Serafina doesn’t know is that she might be connected to this attack; the victim’s name was Francesca Rosati,  and she was a member family living at a Tuscan estate, called Villa Chimera, whose fates were inextricably intertwined with the Nazi occupation of Italy during World War II. Serafina must uncover why someone wanted to murder Francesca and how it might be related to her own traumatic past during the war.


Chris Bohjalian’s latest novel The Light in the Ruins takes the reader on a sweeping tour of Italy during and after World War II. Through the Rosati family, the author explores the difficult plight of the Italians during the war. The Rosatis chose the path of an uneasy peace with the Nazis in order to spare themselves, and for that, they were not only shunned by their neighbors and locals, but they paid a heavy price for their complicity. Moral dilemmas abound in this novel; there are no easy choices and consequences must be faced at every turn.

Bohjalian does an excellent job with all his characters in The Light in the Ruins, both past and present, but Serafina will particularly leap off the page for readers. From the beginning, it’s clear that she endured severe physical and psychological trauma as a result of events at the end of the war, and that it’s somehow connected to the Rosatis. Other than that, though, her past is shrouded in mystery. Readers will devour her story, eager to discover more about her while also hoping Serafina will find some peace, some closure, as a result of this case.

The author also brings Tuscany to life in the pages of The Light in the Ruins. His descriptions are beautiful and evocative; readers will be able to taste the air and smell the surroundings with closed eyes. The details are vivid and absolutely lovely. There is also an element of the distant past in this novel; a set of Etruscan tombs are at the center of the book, and Bohjalian’s weaves their history and significance throughout the book. It’s so interesting to see how the ancient past and recent past come together to make this novel.

If you’re looking for a thought provoking novel, The Light in the Ruins is sure to satisfy you. It has so many thought-provoking elements, and readers won’t be able to put it down. While it is a mystery on the surface, about the murder of Francesca, underneath it’s the tragic tale of one family who paid the price for their difficult decisions during World War II. It’s as gorgeous as it is heartbreaking, and readers will linger over and savor every last word of this beautiful read.

Other books by Chris Bohjalian:

The Night Strangers
Secrets of Eden

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  1. This is on my wish list. I love historical fiction and mysteries.

  2. I totally adored this book, too. Now I have to go back and read all of his backlist!

  3. I’m in the middle of this one right now! So far so good, I’m enjoying it 🙂

  4. Beth Hoffman says:

    I’ve had this on my list for quite sometime and am glad to know that you enjoyed it.

  5. Hi Swapna, I just noticed this review and wondered if you would like to link it in to the current monthly collection of books that people loved on Carole’s Chatter. This is the link There are already over 25 great books linked in that you might be interested in. It would be super if you came on over. Cheers

  6. Finished it last night. I liked it.

  7. Just got this and can’t wait to read it!
    Great review! 🙂 -beth

  8. Glad to see you liked this one. I’m waiting for it to come in at the library. 🙂

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