Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Wedding Officer: Never judge a book by its cover

The Wedding Officer: A Novel (Bantam Discovery)The Wedding Officer, by Anthony Capella

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

When I received this book via, I was a bit dismayed by the cover. Except for a brief foray into Danielle Steele when I was in college, I DON'T DO ROMANCE. And the book cover definitely looks like romance, "women's" type of fiction. Blech.

Naples and Mount Vesuvius, the setting for this novel
So I was happily surprised to enjoy this book very much. Young British army captain James Gould is stationed in Naples, Italy, assigned as the "wedding officer," to discourage marriages between British soldiers and Italian women. In dire straits, most women in Naples could only find one way to make a living: by selling their bodies. Therefore, how would it look for upright Brits to be marrying prostitutes? Not good. Naive Gould approaches his job at first in a very black-and-white way, but eventually he comes to realize that truth and beauty, and in fact justice, often lie in the gray areas.

Women with their children in wartime Naples, Italy
Gould falls in love with extraordinarily talented chef Livia Pertini, who grew up at the base of Mount Vesuvius. After her family falls into ruin, she ends up taking a position as the cook for the British officers. Capella is not the first author to portray the stirrings of young love among the appetizing aromas and flavors of exquisitely prepared (and described) food. Livia was a wonderful character: spunky, passionate, brave, and wise.

As with all great historical fiction, I learned a great deal about that era and setting during World War II. I knew about Pompeii and had heard about Mount Vesuvius, but I did not know that it erupted during the allied occupation of Italy. In fact, I knew very little about Italy during the war.

The 1944 eruption of Mount Vesuvius
Apparently scientists say it's overdue for another eruption, but this time millions of people will be killed. Naples is only 6 miles away from the volcano.

Toward the end of the book, I found myself wondering whether Capella was a happy-ending or tragic-ending sort of guy. The plot could have gone either way. I won't spoil the ending by answering that for you.

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