“Return to the Italian Quarter” by Domenica Del Rosa – recreating Italy in London and the legacy of an immigrant past

Return to the Italian Quarter by Domenica Del Rosa is set in mostly in London but it is a part of London settled by Italians and inhabited by the family of Sophie. Sophie’s family came to the area from Italy in at the beginning of the twentieth century and her grandfather has kept the Italian language and tradition very real to them all through the generations. A journalist begins to visit Sophie’s grandfather and dig around in his past so Sophie becomes involved to try and maintain the reputation of the family. She learns new things about her grandfather and begins to understand herself and her family much better as part of the process.

This book really concentrates in the Italian experience during the first half of the twentieth century as they immigrated to London and set up businesses. It looks at how families were dependent on one another and on how they managed to survive in an environment where they were mistrusted. The story examines where the loyalty of these immigrants lay and also in how they were treated during WW2. How Italian is Sophie ? How Italian is the experience of living in London ?

This is not a very heavy novel but it looks at some interesting things and tells a gripping story. It shows clearly how confused people often are about loyalty, patriotism and identity and how complex the issues are surrounding those things. Sophie finds herself at a turning point in life and the events surrounding the journalistic investigation into her grandfather help her to work out what is important in her life.

I enjoyed this novel. It was a quick and engaging story with an unusual settling. For those interested, Domenica Del Rosa is the real name of crime novelist Elly Griffiths.