Jen: What inspired you to write OUR DARKEST NIGHT?
Jennifer: After finishing work on THE GOWN, I jumped into work on a book set in…well, I don’t really want to say, since I may return to it some day! I spent months researching and plotting it, but when it was time to buckle down and write the thing, I just couldn’t do it. I was trying to figure out what to do next when my son came to me and asked if it was true that his great-grandparents, my husband’s maternal grandparents, helped to hide Jewish families from the Nazis during the war. And I had to admit that I wasn’t sure – but I told him I would try to find out.
It didn’t take a lot of digging for me to discover that San Zenone degli Ezzelini, the small town in northern Italy where my mother-in-law grew up, was a focus of resistance against the Nazi occupation in World War Two, and specifically that the local priest had organized shelter for dozens of Italian Jews. Father Oddo Stocco was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2010, and while I wasn’t able to prove conclusively that my husband’s grandparents were involved, I do believe they were among the many residents of San Zenone who helped Father Stocco.
That discovery got me thinking, and wondering, and though I didn’t feel I could – or should – write a book about San Zenone and Father Stocco, I did want to tell a story about someone who might have found herself caught up in the chaos and horror of those years. A young woman who had to leave everything behind, take shelter among strangers, and find the strength to survive the hard years ahead. This character was nothing but shadows and impressions at first, but before long I had a name for her, and soon she became my heroine Antonina, or Nina as she is known for much of OUR DARKEST NIGHT.
Why does Antonina Mazin flee Venice with a man she has only just met?
When Nina leaves Venice, it’s the autumn of 1943, the Nazis have occupied Italy, and Italian Jews are in imminent danger of arrest and deportation. With the help of an old family friend, a parish priest in a village in the countryside, her father arranges for her to go into hiding as the wife of Nico Gerardi, one of Father Bernardi’s parishioners. With the borders closed and both police and German troops on alert for any travelers who seem out of place, it’s the only refuge available to her. What makes it even harder for Nina is that she must go alone: her mother is an invalid and cannot travel, and her father will not leave his wife, nor the patients who depend upon him as their physician. I hope readers will be able to see the world through Nina’s eyes, and gain an understanding of the fear and uncertainty that was so present in her life, and that of the more than forty thousand Italian Jews who endured those dark days.
What causes Nico Gerardi to leave the priesthood for a life on his family’s farm?
Two of my husband’s uncles were priests, and rather than decide on their vocation as adults, as typically happens today, they were chosen for the seminary when they were barely into their teens. That’s the case with Nico, who is sent away to school when he’s little more than a child; he only returns when his elder brother is killed in the early years of the war. Although it’s only meant to be a stopgap – his father needs help on the farm – Nico finds it a relief to be home, not least because he doubts his fitness for the priesthood. It’s at this point in his life when he meets Nina…and, well, I don’t want to give away any more of the plot!
What role does faith play in both Nico’s and Nina’s lives?
It is profoundly important to both of them in a foundational way. Their individual faiths – his as a Roman Catholic, hers as a Jew – have shaped their sense of right and wrong, of duty and justice, and of truth and honor. Even as they doubt – and I think it would be very hard to live through such a time and not be afflicted by doubt – they are guided and sustained by the faiths in which they were raised.
What is the best way for readers to stay connected with you?
These days I hang out on Instagram a lot, not only so I can bombard followers with pictures of my cats and dog, but also because I find it a more friendly and hopeful medium than some other social media channels. You can also find me on Facebook (quite often a copy of my posts from IG), but hardly ever on Twitter. You’ll also find lots of bonus material on my website — there are recipes, short stories, book club guides, and much more.
One last question…have you made any New Year’s resolutions?
I’m trying to be cautious about resolutions this year, mainly because I abandoned all of last year’s grand plans and intentions before the snow was off the ground! This year, instead, I want to focus on gratitude. I feel as if taking a moment to acknowledge how fortunate I am, and to think of ways to share that good fortune with others, is a good way to start every day.
Thank you for stopping by to chat about your fabulous new release, OUR DARKEST NIGHT. Happy New Year!
Happy New Year – and happy reading!
To survive the Holocaust, a young Jewish woman must pose as a Christian farmer’s wife in this unforgettable novel from USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Robson—a story of terror, hope, love, and sacrifice, inspired by true events, that vividly evokes the most perilous days of World War II.
It is the autumn of 1943, and life is becoming increasingly perilous for Italian Jews like the Mazin family. With Nazi Germany now occupying most of her beloved homeland, and the threat of imprisonment and deportation growing ever more certain, Antonina Mazin has but one hope to survive—to leave Venice and her beloved parents and hide in the countryside with a man she has only just met.
Nico Gerardi was studying for the priesthood until circumstances forced him to leave the seminary to run his family’s farm. A moral and just man, he could not stand by when the fascists and Nazis began taking innocent lives. Rather than risk a perilous escape across the mountains, Nina will pose as his new bride. And to keep her safe and protect secrets of his own, Nico and Nina must convince prying eyes they are happily married and in love.
But farm life is not easy for a cultured city girl who dreams of becoming a doctor like her father, and Nico’s provincial neighbors are wary of this soft and educated woman they do not know. Even worse, their distrust is shared by a local Nazi official with a vendetta against Nico. The more he learns of Nina, the more his suspicions grow—and with them his determination to exact revenge.
As Nina and Nico come to know each other, their feelings deepen, transforming their relationship into much more than a charade. Yet both fear that every passing day brings them closer to being torn apart . . .
About Jennifer Robson
Jennifer Robson first learned about the Great War from her father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. A former copy editor, she holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from the University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and young children.
About Jennifer Vido
Jennifer Vido is best known for her nationally syndicated Jen’s Jewels author interview column. A savvy book blogger she dishes the scoop on the latest happenings in the publishing business. As a national spokesperson for the Arthritis Foundation, she has been featured by Lifetime Television, Redbook, Health Monitor, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, Healthguru.com, and Arthritis Today. She is the author of the Piper O’Donnell Mystery series. Currently, she lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and two sons.