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The Villa

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The Villa

by Stewart J. Bellus
  • Merriam Press World War 2 Fiction Series
    • First Edition
      • 206 6x9-inch pages
This story is a character study of soldiers during and after World War II, and a tale filled with moral dilemmas: Is the preservation of priceless art and architecture worth the life of even one soldier?  Should a commanding officer allow his personal feelings to affect military decisions?  Is there ever a time when it is acceptable to stretch the boundaries of decency for a greater good?


The story starts with a fact.  On December 29, 1943, while Allied forces were struggling to move up the Italian peninsula, General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an order requiring officers to preserve famous buildings or “monuments” where possible, unless military necessity or saving lives required more aggressive action.

This tension between “preservation” and “military necessity” is the engine that drives this novel. The Villa is a fictional account of five soldiers sent on a mission to take out a German sniper’s nest on the roof of a 15th century villa located off Highway 7, the old Appian Way, near the Italian town of Cisterna, one starting point for a final deadly push towards Rome.

The soldiers march at night towards the villa, meet a sister and brother fighting for the Italian resistance, and together, gain entry to the villa despite observation posts on balconies and a guard at the front door who is taken out.  They charge upstairs to the roof, bludgeon two German soldiers, plant explosives on the room where the sniper supposedly is located, and dash out of the villa.  As they flee there is a timed explosion.

The team gets debriefed by a panel of officers, and as the story is related by their captain, an inconsistency becomes apparent: why were they sent on a mission set up in a way to preserve the historic villa if they were going to blow it up anyway?

The narrator, Nathan “Nate” Goldberg, leads the reader through an apparent suicide mission seen through the eyes of an innocent Brooklyn boy.

The mystery continues through the rest of the story, from smitten Nate’s AWOL attempt to see the sister again and the teams’ return to the villa where they learn of the owner’s ties to both Italian and German fascists, to a post-war “reunion” at the home of their fallen comrade and a visit by Nate to Italy where he finds out more about his love s one-year stay with an aunt in Brooklyn ten years earlier.

The first part of the novel is about war, the second part is about the return to civilian life, the third part is a journey back to the scene of the “crime” where light is shed on the mystery and Nate’s future with Lucia, and the final part is the unwinding of the mystery, with Nate finally finding the missing piece to the puzzle.  Through it all the question that started the story lingers: when is preservation of any structure worth the life of even one soldier?

CUSTOMER REVIEWS

You don't have to love or even like historical fiction to love this story! This is a fast-paced story from the outset. Somehow (I guess that's what makes this author a good writer and story-teller!) in very short order the author describes everything we need to know about each character, and before you know it you are in the thick of things right along side them. The story is full of suspense and anticipation. In fact I got so stressed reading it that more than once I had to put it down for a few days! LOL. It was a great read so take it with you on your holiday vacation or in the car, the boat, the train or plane on your way to see relatives and friends! Also a great gift whether you have a little money or alot. —ALN

This is a very interesting story about how war affects young people with well developed characters and well described settings. I can easily see this adapted as a movie. Great read! —Dennis Brown

A great story with good character development. I liked that the story line was not predictable. The characters were all interesting and the plot was well paced. I am looking forward to the next book by this author. —Liz R.

A well-written story with interesting characters and the great backdrop of WWII. When you get to the end of a chapter, you don't want to stop reading—so you don't! Definitely worth the read! —DHNY

A story that expertly reflects the innocence of the times in 1930's/'40's Brooklyn; tracking a young man's journey from his sheltered youth to middle age through the experience of war and love. —Gary D.

Fantastic book! Wonderful deep characters, very well written. Very enjoyable reading! —Olga Fuchs

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