Off the Shelf: My Father’s House
By Joseph O’Connor, Europa Editions, ISBN-978-1-60945-835-5
Review by Terry Kenneally
From the acclaimed, best-selling author of Star of the Sea and winner of the 2021 Irish Book Awards Book of the Year for Shadowplay, comes a gripping and atmospheric new novel set in wartime Rome. Sometimes a novel’s setting looms so large it becomes a crucial element of the plot, that’s certainly true of the dangerous streets of World War II Rome, which Joseph O’Connor explores in this historical thriller.
My Father’s House and even more so of the “neutral” independent country within Rome known as Vatican City, follows this crucial element, where an Irish priest has organized an escape line of refugees, diplomats and allied soldiers sought by the German forces that control northern Italy.
Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty
Inspired by the true story of Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty, O’Connor’s fiction hones in on one crucial mission, set for Christmas Eve, 1943. The story is reconstructed through various documents and the testimony of his randomly assembled band of collaborators, whose meetings are camouflaged as choir practices. The larger story of the cat-and-mouse game with the local Gestapo chief is relayed, even as the single night’s maneuverings unfold. Oberstwarmbannfuhrer Hauptman rules over the Eternal City with vicious efficiency. Hunger is widespread. Rumors fester. The war’s outcome is far from certain. Diplomats, refugees, Jews, and escaped Allied prisoners flee for protection into Vatican City.
Hauptman is under pressure from his impatient supervisors in Berlin to stem the tide of escapees. Those in hiding must be moved to the countryside as quickly as possible. This will require substantial funds for bribes and false papers left in clandestine locations throughout Rome. It also means that O’Flaherty (who’s been sent an envelope containing thirty-two human teeth by his Nazi nemesis) must leave the safety of the Vatican and put his knowledge of Rome’s back alleys to the test.
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Suspenseful and beautifully written, My Father’s House, tells an unforgettable story of love, faith, sacrifice, and courage. “Few living writers can take us back in time so assuredly, with such sensual density, through such gorgeous sentences,” says Peter Carey, Booker Prize winner with True History of the Kelly Gang. A TOP SHELF read.
*Terrence J Kenneally is an attorney and owner of Terrence J, Kenneally & Assoc. in Rocky River, Ohio. He received his Master’s Degree in Irish Studies from John Carroll University and has taught Irish History and Literature.