Set in 1940’s Italy, Mussolini’s Island explores an area of history rarely looked at. Along with many other men like him, Francesco finds himself being imprisoned and sent to the island of San Domino for confino (confinement), for the crime of being gay. With suspicions about who gave their names to the police, fear over what will happen to them, and the pressure of an impending war, life on the island is far from easy.
Elena, a young local girl, is drawn to Francesco but can’t understand why he and the other men have been made prisoners on her island. When she finds out the truth about the prisoners, she is left with a decision that could have terrible consequences.
There are a lot of layers to this book. I found the historical aspects very interesting, and I really enjoyed the inclusion of some Italian terms (confino, arrusi, etc). Homosexuality in Italy during the 1940s isn’t an area I’ve read about before and I was eager to learn more. Although the story is fictional, a large amount of research obviously went into writing this book and I have a lot of respect for the author for that.
Unfortunately, I also had some big problems reading Mussolini’s Island and didn’t particularly enjoy the story. Mainly, the plot was very, very slow. There is a large mystery element (what happened to Francesco’s father; who turned the arrusi’s names over; and who killed Rapetti) but these questions aren’t answered until near the end. The rest of the book mainly consists of Francesco either reminiscing about the past or fawning over Emilio. Overall, it was kind of boring. If it weren’t for the general intrigue and interesting historical elements, I wouldn’t have made it all the way through.
As it was, I did reach the end and I did enjoy the book to some extent. What it really lacked was a stronger level of romance and excitement. Sadly, a well-written but decidedly average book.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Bookbridgr in exchange for an honest review.