For anyone who enjoyed Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow, Still Life by Sarah Winman will be a similar literary gift. It is not a suspenseful page turner but I was roped in from the first page and was loath to put it down.
Quite simply, the story unfurls around two main characters, Ulysses Temper and Eveleyn Skinner, who have a chance meeting near Florence, Italy during the last year of WWII. Ulysses, a young British soldier and Miss Skinner, a middle-aged art historian, find themselves at a villa recently vacated by the Germans where, incredibly, a cellar full of precious art, religious artifacts, and statuary have been left behind for recapture by The Monuments, Fine Art and Archives Officers. That chance meeting, however brief, will be one that will leave an indelible stamp on both of their lives.
After the war, Ulysses heads back to London to continue the life he patriotically left behind. Surrounded by a motley crew of fascinating characters, including his young wife Peggy, Ulysses pines not for a future that is anything other than what lays right before him. However, an unexpected inheritance takes him back to Florence and to a life that is as richly textured as one might expect from a city abounding in artistic treasures.
All of the characters in this story came alive to me and more than once, I felt a tug at the old heart strings, brought on by profound examples of the beauty and endurance of the human spirit. For readers with an epicurean leaning, the tantalizing descriptions of glorious Italian meals is enough to make one’s mouth water.
Art, music, food, wine, and love…..you can’t go wrong!