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A tale of love, heroism and resistance set against the stunning backdrop of 1930s Florence, In Love and War weaves fact and fiction to create a sweeping portrait of a city under siege. The novel is told through the eyes, letters and journals of Esmond Lowndes, who comes to Italy a lonely young man in the shadow of his politician father. On the cobbles of Florence’s many-st A tale of love, heroism and resistance set against the stunning backdrop of 1930s Florence, In Love and War weaves fact and fiction to create a sweeping portrait of a city under siege. The novel is told through the eyes, letters and journals of Esmond Lowndes, who comes to Italy a lonely young man in the shadow of his politician father. On the cobbles of Florence’s many-storied streets, he deepens his appreciation of art and literature, and falls in love. With the coming of war, Esmond finds himself drawn into the Tuscan Resistance, hunted by the malevolent Mario Carità, head of the Fascist secret police. With his lover, Ada, at his side, he is at the centre of assassination plots, shoot-outs and car chases, culminating in a final mission of extraordinary daring. In Love and War is a novel that will take you deep into the secret heart of history. It is a novel of art and letters, of bawdy raconteurs and dashing spies. With Esmond Lowndes you will see the beauty of Florence and the horror of war as it sweeps over the city’s terracotta rooftops. In Love and War is both epic and intimate, harrowing and heartwarming.


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A tale of love, heroism and resistance set against the stunning backdrop of 1930s Florence, In Love and War weaves fact and fiction to create a sweeping portrait of a city under siege. The novel is told through the eyes, letters and journals of Esmond Lowndes, who comes to Italy a lonely young man in the shadow of his politician father. On the cobbles of Florence’s many-st A tale of love, heroism and resistance set against the stunning backdrop of 1930s Florence, In Love and War weaves fact and fiction to create a sweeping portrait of a city under siege. The novel is told through the eyes, letters and journals of Esmond Lowndes, who comes to Italy a lonely young man in the shadow of his politician father. On the cobbles of Florence’s many-storied streets, he deepens his appreciation of art and literature, and falls in love. With the coming of war, Esmond finds himself drawn into the Tuscan Resistance, hunted by the malevolent Mario Carità, head of the Fascist secret police. With his lover, Ada, at his side, he is at the centre of assassination plots, shoot-outs and car chases, culminating in a final mission of extraordinary daring. In Love and War is a novel that will take you deep into the secret heart of history. It is a novel of art and letters, of bawdy raconteurs and dashing spies. With Esmond Lowndes you will see the beauty of Florence and the horror of war as it sweeps over the city’s terracotta rooftops. In Love and War is both epic and intimate, harrowing and heartwarming.

30 review for In Love and War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    "Character is theoretical until we act." In Love and War tells the story of a young English man, Esmond Lowdnes whose mother and father are supporters of the British Fascist party. In 1937, Esmond is sent to Florence to set up a radio station after being sent down from Cambridge for a homosexual affair. Initially he has a flimsy sense of identity - not quite sure if he's gay or a fascist. The first part of the novel is his sentimental education. Eventually he will meet the Jewish Ada who provides "Character is theoretical until we act." In Love and War tells the story of a young English man, Esmond Lowdnes whose mother and father are supporters of the British Fascist party. In 1937, Esmond is sent to Florence to set up a radio station after being sent down from Cambridge for a homosexual affair. Initially he has a flimsy sense of identity - not quite sure if he's gay or a fascist. The first part of the novel is his sentimental education. Eventually he will meet the Jewish Ada who provides him with self-knowledge. When war breaks out he stays on in Florence and joins the resistance. Strangely Esmond, the pivot of the novel. was the least convincing character for me. While the Italians around him were vivid and convincing Esmond himself always seemed a bit implausible to me, overly romanticised. However, this was an excellently written novel and though I found the first half overindulgent of Esmond's sex life I really began to enjoy it once the war began.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  3. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    This was very gratefully received as an ARC from Faber & Faber via NetGalley. I requested it as I love historical fiction and 1930s Europe is one of my particular areas of interest. I have studied and taught Mussolini’s Italy a little but not read many novels set then/ there so I was keen to give this a try. In Love and War starts with the main character, Esmond Lowndes, on a plane to Florence being waved off by his parents, both enthusiastic members of the Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fasci This was very gratefully received as an ARC from Faber & Faber via NetGalley. I requested it as I love historical fiction and 1930s Europe is one of my particular areas of interest. I have studied and taught Mussolini’s Italy a little but not read many novels set then/ there so I was keen to give this a try. In Love and War starts with the main character, Esmond Lowndes, on a plane to Florence being waved off by his parents, both enthusiastic members of the Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists. Lowndes is in disgrace after his parents discovery of a homosexual affair at Cambridge and has been sent to set up a radio station in Italy designed to promote fascism and bring Britain and Mussolini’s new state together. As war creeps closer Esmond becomes increasingly disillusioned with fascism and starts to develop relationships with a group of anti-fascists. I would say for me this is a book of two halves, or rather a book of 2/3s to 1/3. I really didn’t enjoy the first 60% or so. The overly sympathetic portrayal of the BUF, the lack of criticism of a character who is, quite frankly, a predatory paedophile, overlong history of Art lessons and oddly passionless, clunky sex scenes left me cold. However, once the war is properly underway and then Mussolini has fallen from power it picks up in both pace and intensity. I didn’t particularly like Esmond but I was interested in his arc from semi-reluctant fascist to member of the resistance. The mindless everyday violence of the regime is well portrayed, too. 2.5 stars (3 if I’m being particularly generous, and for Goodreads which doesn’t allow halves!)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime: "[He] unfolds a portrait of himself in gouache [...] It is a good likeness, he thinks, if a little tragic, and big-eared. She has drawn a man - given him something to grow into." Esmond Lowndes's father is a leading light in the British Union Of Fascists. In 1937, Esmond is sent down from Cambridge in disgrace and dispatched instead to Florence to set up Radio Firenze - an English-language radio station aiming to form closer ties between Fascists in Italy and En From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime: "[He] unfolds a portrait of himself in gouache [...] It is a good likeness, he thinks, if a little tragic, and big-eared. She has drawn a man - given him something to grow into." Esmond Lowndes's father is a leading light in the British Union Of Fascists. In 1937, Esmond is sent down from Cambridge in disgrace and dispatched instead to Florence to set up Radio Firenze - an English-language radio station aiming to form closer ties between Fascists in Italy and England. Esmond finds love and loss, and his journey of self-discovery becomes increasingly and - as Italy moves into war - more tightly intertwined with the fortunes of Florence, the city he has made his home. And at every turn, he comes up against the local Blackshirt leader, the brutal Mario Carita.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jan Hawke

    A book of 4 quarters as the football pundits would not say. It is about a young gay Fascist Esmond Lownes who is banished to Florence to set up a radio station there. After a short sojourn he realises he is neither gay or a Fascist. The first part of the book described his idyllic summer there before the war and the evil of Fascism directly affected him. I agreed with another reader who felt the book was overly explicit at this point but realised afterwards that this was intended as a direct con A book of 4 quarters as the football pundits would not say. It is about a young gay Fascist Esmond Lownes who is banished to Florence to set up a radio station there. After a short sojourn he realises he is neither gay or a Fascist. The first part of the book described his idyllic summer there before the war and the evil of Fascism directly affected him. I agreed with another reader who felt the book was overly explicit at this point but realised afterwards that this was intended as a direct contrast to the horrors to come. The middle section describes Lowndes from different viewpoints; both from friends, family and business aquaintances' letters to him and in his own voice recorded on the back of radio tapes. This part felt a little disjointed and slow but the book became more energised in the final quarter which was both enthralling and distressing. Esmonde saw himself as an 'inconsequential being' but I guess the point of the letters section was to display how he touched so many people's lives and how they much they cared for him. Apart from the narrative and the characterisation- the growth of Lowndes from a 'foppish Englishman' to a man with real heroic qualities was completely believable - the depiction of Mussolini's Florence was really instructive. So many books are written about occupied France and how the resistance operated in other countries but I have read little about Italy in the war. And the descriptions of Florence were glorious!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Pedersen

    The ratings surprise me. I found it superficial with little to no sustenance - flowery language only does so much. One thing has bothered me whilst reading other reviews... Is no one going to talk about the random subplot concerning a perverted old man who basically grooms kids and kidnaps a young girl?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kellie

    The first several chapters of this book bothered me. The main character was having a lot of sex and I was trying to figure out what it had to do with the rest of the book. Like most people, I am a very busy person and I do not have time to waste on a book that's going to turn out trashy. I read the end. I wanted to make sure that I was not going to hate the author for wasting my time with trashy romance when I wanted historical fiction. The last 50 pages were good and were going to make whatever The first several chapters of this book bothered me. The main character was having a lot of sex and I was trying to figure out what it had to do with the rest of the book. Like most people, I am a very busy person and I do not have time to waste on a book that's going to turn out trashy. I read the end. I wanted to make sure that I was not going to hate the author for wasting my time with trashy romance when I wanted historical fiction. The last 50 pages were good and were going to make whatever happened in between the beginning and the end worth it. I'm not a prude, but there was just so much sex. Gay sex. Straight sex. Old perverts having sex. TMI... I wanted brain bleach for a few of the encounters. I read another review here on Goodreads and the reviewer mentioned that the sex was to show how decadent the lifestyle was at the time. Our protagonist had money, he came from a titled family, he was a fascist in Mussolini's Italy. Somewhere along the line with the book that he's writing he begins to change. Part of his journey has to do with him writing a book for his father, about one of his father's friends from World War One. As he matures, his friends and a publisher help to make him aware of his own conflict inside. His father is furious with him for not coming back to Jolly Old England to sign up with his regiment. Son stays, for he has fallen in love, he begins fighting with the Resistance. About a quarter of the way through one of the lead characters in the beginning died. It was easy to become connected with that character. #RavelryPeeps I was very upset and I decided to create a lace shawl in the honor of that character, something that takes from the colors of pre-World War 2 in a motif and shape that was common during the time for that character's social standing. I will get complimented on that shell and it will give me an opportunity to tell people about why I created it! There is much mention of shawls with this character. and it's really hard to not tell you what happens and the whole story behind it, but you will see. As a mother of a soldier, the whole story hit me. That's why I'm up at 3 o'clock in the morning on a Saturday night having not been able to put this book down. I keep thinking of a painting by Käthe Kollwitz saying that "seed corn should not be ground!" I cried too many times to count while I read this book. The story of a life that was too short, a representation of many lives that should have not been ended because they were pointlessly murdered in wars and by the evil doings of agents for the other side. By the end, our protagonist has matured as have I. What these people were doing was not about them, it was about something much bigger. They were fighting and they were risking their lives to help other people and to make the saving of other people be possible. I will be reading more books by Alex Preston in the near future.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I didn't expect to enjoy this book but once I got into it I was completely taken over by the story, the characters, the history & not least by Florence itself. I didn't expect to enjoy this book but once I got into it I was completely taken over by the story, the characters, the history & not least by Florence itself.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Angela Petch

    I so enjoyed this intriguing book. The story starts in 1937 and takes us from an English country house to pre-war Florence, where our hero, Esmond Lowndes, (love the period name) ends up staying for the duration of the Second World War. I’ve read a few Italian war stories but In Love and War approaches from a different angle. Esmond is from a renowned British Fascist family and is sent to Florence to set up a radio station – with the blessings of Mussolini, Il Duce. Radio Firenze is born. Esmond I so enjoyed this intriguing book. The story starts in 1937 and takes us from an English country house to pre-war Florence, where our hero, Esmond Lowndes, (love the period name) ends up staying for the duration of the Second World War. I’ve read a few Italian war stories but In Love and War approaches from a different angle. Esmond is from a renowned British Fascist family and is sent to Florence to set up a radio station – with the blessings of Mussolini, Il Duce. Radio Firenze is born. Esmond grows up/comes of age in the most desperate of situations and as events unfold, makes inevitable life choices. But they are painful. No spoilers, but the reader is swept up in undercover operations and assassination plots and a dramatic finale. Having spent a year studying in Florence, I loved watching the events of war involved in my own coming-of-age city, helped by a map and character list at the front of the book. This city, dubbed as the “cradle of civilisation” has always attracted expats and Preston introduces us to a gallery of eccentric personalities – some imagined, but many real. Who knew that Norman Douglas was such a loathsome man? I will probably remove his books from my shelves after reading this book! This combination of fact and fantasy was fascinating. Reading the author’s Notes at the back of the book, he tells us that his book almost wasn’t a novel. During his visit to Florence, he heard about many “untold tales of bravery and selfless sacrifice” and he “wanted to set them down in a cool, clear work of non-fiction.” I enjoyed this novel, as he describes it, but awarded 4.5 stars because I felt that at times, the narrative (especially in the middle, with some of the radio transcripts), was pulled out of shape with passages that read as if from a history book. The other aspect that irked was the occasional use of English words that I had to look up. But Preston is a Creative Writing Tutor at UKC, so what do I know? Finally (and I am a bit of an anorak over this, I truly admit), some of the Italian phrases and words were not accurate. But the writing is evocative, passionate, thrilling and epic. I recommend it to anybody remotely interested in the history of the Second World War in Italy.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sorcha O'Dowd

    I was too emotionally drained to write a review coherent enough to express how much of a masterpiece this book is when I first finished it. I’m not ashamed to admit, I was a bit of a wreck. I’d just been through one of the most powerful, heart-wrenching reading experiences, and I couldn’t even begin to put my thoughts into words. All I could say was; “Wow! What a heart-breaking, just all round outstanding novel!” This is the first book I’ve read by Alex Preston, but it most certainly won’t be the I was too emotionally drained to write a review coherent enough to express how much of a masterpiece this book is when I first finished it. I’m not ashamed to admit, I was a bit of a wreck. I’d just been through one of the most powerful, heart-wrenching reading experiences, and I couldn’t even begin to put my thoughts into words. All I could say was; “Wow! What a heart-breaking, just all round outstanding novel!” This is the first book I’ve read by Alex Preston, but it most certainly won’t be the last. ‘In Love and War’ was an incredibly well-written and powerful novel that just highlights Alex Preston’s talent as an author. The story starts in a Pre-Second World War Florence, and immediately I connected to the writing. I could feel the Italian heat, I could see the balconies, the streets and the people. Everything was so well-portrayed that I wished I could go to Florence, but not today’s Florence, a 1930s Florence unchanged by war and technology. There are different parts to this novel, and each one is different. We see Esmond’s journey from his perspective, his loves, losses and works, and we see the story and passing of time through letters, telegrams and radio recordings. All of which were paced perfectly. I won’t spoil the story for potential readers, but I’ll just say this. You will smile, cry, shiver, clutch your chest at the pain of war, and really think about all the unnamed people who died in WWII trying to make this place a better world. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but through this book, Alex Preston has given a new meaning to these brave men and women, and the battles they fought. 6 Stars! P.S. Thank you so much Alex Preston for signing my book before it was sent to me. I will treasure it! *Proof copy kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    This was a great book that was sent to me by Lovereading and Faber & Faber. This is a beautifully written debut novel set in1930s in Mussolini’s Italy. This was a part of history that I had not read about and found the storyline fascinating from start to finish. There is so much in this novel assassination plots, art and letter, spies, espionage and love. The author created believable characters – the main character Esmond Lowndes is on a plane to Florence being waved off by his parents, both mem This was a great book that was sent to me by Lovereading and Faber & Faber. This is a beautifully written debut novel set in1930s in Mussolini’s Italy. This was a part of history that I had not read about and found the storyline fascinating from start to finish. There is so much in this novel assassination plots, art and letter, spies, espionage and love. The author created believable characters – the main character Esmond Lowndes is on a plane to Florence being waved off by his parents, both members of the Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists. Lowndes is in disgrace after his parent’s discovery of a homosexual affair at Cambridge is being sent to Italy to promote fascism. He becomes cynical about the whole regime. The story continues with Esmond and his relationship with antifascists. The author recounts the whole aspect of fascism and is well accounted. This takes the reader to a part of history that for me I was not familiar with and this has encouraged me to read into this subject further. I am looking forward to reading more books by this author.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mirella

    In Love and War is a tale that is set in Florence during the years prior and during World War II. The author writes in such a way that it evoked the sights, smells, and sentiment of the time of a city rich with culture and untarnished by modernity. The novel is multi-layered with several intriguing subplots and a bevy of colorful characters. Through their eyes, and their interaction through letters, radio programs, and telegrams, the tale unfolds with poignancy. The author was able to evoke many In Love and War is a tale that is set in Florence during the years prior and during World War II. The author writes in such a way that it evoked the sights, smells, and sentiment of the time of a city rich with culture and untarnished by modernity. The novel is multi-layered with several intriguing subplots and a bevy of colorful characters. Through their eyes, and their interaction through letters, radio programs, and telegrams, the tale unfolds with poignancy. The author was able to evoke many emotions where the brutal realities of war was skillfully intermixed with themes of love, endurance, and family. It is not an easy read because of its rich complexities, but one that should be taken seriously and read at leisure to learn and experience Italy and how its people suffered and survived World War II. Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    On the cover the Times says this book is "utterly compelling". I would say utterly unreadable. I have surrendered after 100 pages, where Fascism and pedophilia are treated as run of the mill events, historical facts are massacred and cliches and bad writing abound. Avoid On the cover the Times says this book is "utterly compelling". I would say utterly unreadable. I have surrendered after 100 pages, where Fascism and pedophilia are treated as run of the mill events, historical facts are massacred and cliches and bad writing abound. Avoid

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laura Wilkinson

    Slow to start and I almost gave up but glad I persevered

  15. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    I picked this book up after searching for a book set in Italy, where I was travelling in May 2019. Because I love historical fiction, I sought a book whose story falls under the backdrop of the second World War. Not only did I want to learn more about Italy’s history of fascism, I also wanted to understand how resisters lived their lives during this period. The first half of this book, except for a few sections, I found to be dull. There were scenes that described orgies and a storyline I almost I picked this book up after searching for a book set in Italy, where I was travelling in May 2019. Because I love historical fiction, I sought a book whose story falls under the backdrop of the second World War. Not only did I want to learn more about Italy’s history of fascism, I also wanted to understand how resisters lived their lives during this period. The first half of this book, except for a few sections, I found to be dull. There were scenes that described orgies and a storyline I almost missed about a pedophile. The last one hundred pages, however, delivered what I was seeking. The prose of the author, and language used, was more expressive than I am used to, and I found myself looking up vocabulary in my dictionary a few times. This is probably not a book I would recommend, but it wasn’t a horrible read either.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    This book is really like reading four different book, each different in tone and style. The central character is Esmond who relocates to Florence just prior to the outbreak of World War II, working on the side of the fascist cause. As war progresses allegiances change and Esmond fights with the resistance in order to save himself, his loved one's and Florence. This book is really like reading four different book, each different in tone and style. The central character is Esmond who relocates to Florence just prior to the outbreak of World War II, working on the side of the fascist cause. As war progresses allegiances change and Esmond fights with the resistance in order to save himself, his loved one's and Florence.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Liz C

    A good read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    Left me cold. I couldn't finish it. I dont speak Italian, so didnt understand many of the comments. It was disjointed and confusing. Left me cold. I couldn't finish it. I dont speak Italian, so didnt understand many of the comments. It was disjointed and confusing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Jones

    A powerful story beautifully told. Vivid, faultless, engaging, earnest, profound, brilliant. I do not go out of the way to read historical fiction and both the blurb and cover meant clearly didn't have me as target audience since they drew me in not at all; I felt I'd have to force myself to read it. It was recommended to me as a book which succeeds in creating 'atmosphere' so I approached it almost as a text, 'for the purpose of learning something.' The first page did not encourage me but then I A powerful story beautifully told. Vivid, faultless, engaging, earnest, profound, brilliant. I do not go out of the way to read historical fiction and both the blurb and cover meant clearly didn't have me as target audience since they drew me in not at all; I felt I'd have to force myself to read it. It was recommended to me as a book which succeeds in creating 'atmosphere' so I approached it almost as a text, 'for the purpose of learning something.' The first page did not encourage me but then I read the author's note and it was this that triggered my interest: many of the book's characters were based on people who really existed and the author resisted the urge to fictionalise in order to be faithful to historical truth, studiously researched. Now I will never forget Mario Carita, Firenze's leader of the Blackshirts and his torture house, the Villa Triste. Mario Carita and The Villa Triste were real, whether known by different names or not I'm unsure. Norman Douglas was based on a real and infamous character as well. Though this is almost a side note, his inclusion also illustrates how much has changed in the last 80 years. How different those days when a character like Norman Douglas could groom children openly (seemingly treating them in a benign and kind manner all the while) and meet with nothing more than the disapproval of his friends! But the story is aptly titled and Norman no more than a minor character, part of the environment, part of a scene that is perhaps the first shot in the engagement with the war and the Resistance that will become life for Edmond, Preston's main character. Love and War is a memorable feat of historical fiction, that I'd put on as high a pedestal as Chimamanda Adichie's 'Half of a Yellow Sun' or Markus Zusak's 'The Book Thief.' How our perception of history changes with time! Novels such as these allow us to look at 'history' as the contemporaries of that era might have done. Here is a story in which communism, as yet not fully tried, is an ideal to fight for and British self-described fascists are presenting a seemingly benign ideal, lead by educated and cultured Brits. Just this week a British resident of Italy was telling me that in Italy fascism and Mussolini are taught in such a way that the Italians cannot forget. Perhaps though, given the tone of contemporary conversations, the Brits think themselves immune to fascism, remembering history through a prism in which they fought the Germans, in which they were the good guys. Preston says he hopes 'In Love and War can stand as a monument to the extraordinary bravery of the young men and women who wrested control of the story of modern Italy from the Fascists and the Nazis, to the lives they led, the deaths they suffered, to the history they forged through their actions.' This rich and touching story achieves exactly that.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Candy Nichols

    The story if historically correct gives an insight into living in Florence as an Englishman during the occupation of the Germans and the rising fashist state of Mussolini Featuring a young man who experiences are numerous I was intrigued by the tone of the book and the general feeling of the story is a man growing up I wont reveal any of the plots as it is better to read them and find out for yourself I was sad at the end though

  21. 5 out of 5

    Guy

    Absorbing and gripping..Esmond was a tragic character but loved the backdrop of Florence during the war. Sad shit

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    Slow start and builds into a fantastic story of the resistance in Florence.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Like historical fiction? You may enjoy this book. Read my review here: https://thereadersroom.org/2016/06/13... Like historical fiction? You may enjoy this book. Read my review here: https://thereadersroom.org/2016/06/13...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Josephine

    Beautiful description of Florence. Loved Esmond, his transformation, and Ada, their brave and tragic story. Good pace that builds rapidly towards the end.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

  26. 4 out of 5

    Indrajeet Singh

  27. 5 out of 5

    Laura Font Sentís

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  29. 4 out of 5

    James

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kmitcalfe

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