ALIBI
Joseph Kanon

 


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Henry Holt and Company, April 2005
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
 
Italy After World War II
 
Venice doesnít look like it has been through a war. Adam Millerís charming, magnetic mother Grace returns to Venice believing she has returned to the city of her youth. She embraces the international set of expatriates with whom she and Adamís father used to enjoy their days, before death and war intervened. When Adam is discharged from the US army in Germany, Grace urges him to join her. Adam has been an investigator, chasing down Nazis for the war crimes trials. He has seen wagonloads of bodies from the death camps, cities flattened by bombing, ragged German civilians fighting for food in the streets. Hazy, beautiful Venice seems unreal to him, until he meets a young Jewish woman who survived a Nazi death camp.
 
Claudia lives and works in a personal kind of isolation, having no common ground with people who have not lived through hell. She keeps herself separate even from the folk of the ghetto where her home was. Falling in love with Claudia, Adam becomes aware of Veniceís underside. For Venetians to keep their lives as undamaged as possible, it was necessary to cooperate with the Nazi Occupation. Afterward, everyone put a smooth face on things. No one helped the Nazis, everyone was a secret sympathizer with the Resistance. Claudia makes it impossible for Adam to ignore what his motherís friends want to veil out of existence.
 
The very worst example of cooperation with Nazis, the man Adam would most like to make face the consequences of his wartime actions, is Gianni Maglione, powerful head of an ancient family. Dr. Gianni Maglione is about to marry Adamís mother. The ability of Venice to put on its best disguising face is about to be severely tested.
 
This cast of characters could have played out their inevitable confrontations anywhere, but it would not be the same story without the veiled face of Venice casting its illusions. The lights on the waters, the ancient marble palaces, the morning haze with sunrise sifting through, all of these harmonize with ďbeautiful peopleĒ who wish to make ugliness go away. The city seems almost a fellow conspirator, certainly a participant.
 
Where Grace is the magnet, pulling together all the contestants to the unavoidable clash, Adam is the flint. Everything would have fizzled quietly out if it werenít for Adamís compulsive sense of justice. Without Adam, Claudiaís wrongs, family friend Bertieís unrequited loves, partisan Rosaís undercover war, police officer Cavalliniís ambitions, all would have stayed in their channels of civilized craving. Once they are released, who will win, Venice or Adam?
 
As a reader, my one problem with ALIBI is that I canít like anyone. The dominant motivations of its people are vengeance and secrecy. When I met him at his reading, author Joseph Kanon told me that he wanted to show obsession and its effects. There can be no doubt who we are rooting for, through all the turns of the plot, but how much can we really excuse? This is a question that Kanon wants us to consider.
 
All this, and I havenít given away the single explosive shock which makes the plot of ALIBI what it is. An irreversible event sets readers up for one surprise after another. While Adam is learning to know the characters of the people most important to him, readers undergo such suspense that I found myself wishing the book were shorter, so I would know sooner what was truly going on. ďDo we really have to go through this police chase?Ē I would wonder, but yes, indeed we did, for the sake of the revelations at the end. These characters and their dilemmas are so real that they will continue to reverberate, secretly, in the lives they live after we turn the last page.
 
April 2005 Review
 
 

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