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My Father’s House (Joseph O’Connor) – book review

Joseph O’Connor fictionalises a true story from World War 2 in the first of a planned trilogy, My Father’s House. The tale revolves around the work of Irish priest Hugh O’Flaherty who used his position at the Vatican, a neutral territory within Rome, to help Allied prisoners of war escape. The tale involves the recollections of his co-conspirators as well as the efforts of SS Officer Hauptmann to capture him.

The narrative of the novel is centred around a rendimento, the mass movement of hidden escapees, planned for Christmas Eve 1943. In building up to this event, O’Connor takes readers into the lives of O’Flaherty’s choir: a group of embassy staff taking refuge themselves in the Vatican, journalists and locals. The ‘choir’ did get together to sing as a cover for their activities and O’Connor explores how the group hid and then moved prisoners of war. Slowly O’Connor builds up to the night of the rendimento itself which provides a tense, back half of the novel.

While much of the story has been fictionalised, O’Connor has drawn on a range of historical sources, including the writings of O’Flaherty himself. And as such he delivers a tale that is thrilling but also, even when it seems a little extreme, or the characters seem a little too colourful, carries the ring of truth. While the novel wraps the action and the fates of the characters up, My Father’s House has been marketed as the first of a trilogy about the Rome Line which helped escapees during the war. It will be interesting, given this, to see what aspect of this time and place O’Connor chooses to tackle next.

Robert Goodman
For more of Robert’s reviews, visit his blog Pile By the Bed

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