1. Isabella Berotti admires the architecture in Bellina, but Davide Francolini, the architect responsible for using inferior building materials, believes Bellina is “based on lies and pretence with its fake Roman architecture and its fake farms.” What is your perception of Bellina? Is it a beautiful town or a symbol of Mussolini’s power and corruption – or both?
2. What compels Isabella to investigate the murder of her husband, Luigi? Do you think she finds peace after learning the truth about the circumstances of his murder?
3. Dr Marco Cantini, Carlo Olivera, and the would-be farmer Gabriele Caldarone are fathers who make sacrifices for their children. Do you sympathise with the difficult decisions they make to protect them?
4. According to Mussolini, a woman’s place is to tend to her husband and have a house full of bambini.In what ways do the women in the novel – Isabella, Allegra Bianchi, Francesca Chitti and the nuns from the convent – adhere to the traditional female values in Mussolini’s Italy? In what ways are they subversive?
5. One of the most shocking scenes in the novel is the assassination attempt on Benito Mussolini’s life. Did you expect this twist in the novel? What did you think about the rebels’ extreme method to assassinate Mussolini?
6. Based on what you know from history, what did you think of the novel’s portrayal of Mussolini?
7. How do Rosa and Roberto help Isabella to open up and care for others? Do you think Isabella impacts their lives as well?
8. Why does Isabella choose to stay in Bellina at the end of the novel? Do you think there is hope for the town of Bellina to thrive under Mussolini’s totalitarian state?
9. How does Isabella change from the beginning of the novel to the end of the novel? Do you feel that her transformation at the end of the novel is a positive one?
10. What do you think you’ll take away from this novel? What aspect of the novel will leave the greatest impression on you?