Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Shadowed by Grace: A Story of Monuments Men by Cara C. Putman

The destructive toll left behind by war is immense, often incomprehensible.  The path of humankind has been changed by war, sometimes for the better (think American Revolution), but even those times the personal stories of sacrifice loss are overwhelming.  Over 70 years after WWII, we are still interested in those real life stories of personal sacrifice, and that interest spills over into the creative minds of fiction writers like Cara C. Putnam.

Recent discoveries of collections of art which may have once belonged to European Jewish families brought about renewed interest in Hitler's plan to obtain the world's greatest art (and to destroy the works of those he felt immoral or decadent).  For the first time, many of us learned about that small group of noncombat soldiers known as the Monuments Men.  The recent movie by that name made us think what our world would look like without the great masterpieces.  Would we be the same people today without the Mona Lisa, the statue of David, and the best of religious art?  Cara Putnam's fictional title Shadowed by Grace has readers follow two Americans into Italy as the Germans are retreating.  Rachel Justice is among the first UP photographers allowed near the front lines.  Her female status presents a unique set of barriers, but her keen eye for the emotional photos needed by the papers back home makes her a welcome asset. For her own protection she is paired with  Lt. Scott Lindstrom whose main task is to help priests and local officials record the devastation to Italy's art -- its monuments, church altars, treasured paintings and such.  Cataloging the damage and pin pointing where other pieces are being hidden is the first step to protecting the treasures from any further loss.
From the beginning Rachel feels a connection to Scott, but still she hesitates to share that she has a second motive for being in Italy --  to locate her father, someone she knows nothing about except that he is probably an artists that her mother met in the 1920s.  When she shows Scott a small sketch book she's gotten from her ill mother, the book disappears and Rachel begins to wonder if Scott is among the American soldiers who are helping themselves to "art mementos."

I became very interested in the Monuments Men story after seeing documentary pieces and then the
recent movie.  I've read several fiction books dealing with the men and the protection/recovery of Europe's art, but no stories stand up to the amazing real story.  As I began reading Shadowed by Grace, I found myself drawn into the story with high expectations.  The writing kept my attention and soon I was over 100 pages into the book.  Then, for some reason I can't quite pinpoint, the story stalled and I had a hard time making it to the end.  I knew quite certainly how everything would play out  (there are a few mysteries to the book) but I hoped the historical background would carry my interest through.  It did, but not by much.  Shadowed by Grace is one of those books that I liked, but I really hoped I would like it even more!

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