It’s a real joy and pleasure today to welcome Rose Alexander as my guest – her latest novel, Out of the Mountain’s Shadow, was published on 10th June by Canelo Saga, and is now available as an ebook (on all major ebook platforms – and just 99p for kindle), in paperback, and as an audiobook.
Having so loved her second novel, Under an Amber Sky, back in 2017 – a compelling dual time story, with a slice of hidden Montenegran wartime history (you’ll find my review here) – I started this year’s reading quite wonderfully with her first book for Canelo, Along the Endless River. With its vividly drawn Amazon rainforest backdrop and strong female characters, I thought it was absolutely stunning – one of those rare books that I found quite impossible to set aside until I’d reached its perfect end, and I felt quite bereft to leave its characters behind (you’ll find my review here). I’m so looking forward to reading and reviewing her latest – I was quite heartbroken that I just couldn’t manage it in time for publication day, or in time to join the book tour with Love Books Tours this week, but I’ve most certainly earmarked a slot for next month…
A secret from the war with the power to change one woman’s future…
1939: War has broken out, and in Albania Bekim’s family take in a Jewish family fleeing from Nazi Austria. The years of war will shape his life in unimaginable ways as Bekim grows to love Hannelore, doing everything in his power to protect her. But will he be enough to keep her safe?
2019: Following a shock redundancy, Ruth is taking an extended holiday in southern Italy where she befriends local Zak. When Zak’s dying father asks them to solve a mystery from his past, Ruth leaps at the chance. Journeying through his homeland of Albania, Ruth and Zak race to find the sacred artefacts hidden in the mountains during the war.
A stunning and emotional novel of love and danger, perfect for fans of Lorna Cook and Rachel Hore.
So, sadly no review today – but I’m so delighted to welcome Rose to tell us more…
Out of the Mountain’s Shadow is set in modern day Southern Italy and Albania during WWII. It’s a sad but true fact that the latter of these countries doesn’t have the best of reputations. There’s a saying in neighbouring Montenegro that if, on crossing the border, no contraband is found inside an Albanian’s vehicle then it must be the car itself that is being smuggled. And the incomparable David Sedaris has written wittily and amusingly about his experience of visiting Albania, when his driver warned him and his companion of the high likelihood of having their organs stolen. ‘Keep an eye on your eyes’ seemed to be the message!
But on my first trip to the country with my family, we encountered nothing but friendliness. The weather was beautiful, the scenery stunning and the food delicious.
Like most people, prior to that visit my knowledge of Albania’s history was hazy and really began and ended with Enver Hoxha’s brutal and repressive communist regime, during which time the borders were closed and no communication with foreigners was allowed. As I perused my guidebook, however, I uncovered a wealth of additional information; four-hundred years as part of the Ottoman empire; wartime occupation by the Italians and then the Nazis; disastrous post-communism pyramid selling schemes which brought acute financial hardship to many.
And then a short paragraph, little more than a footnote, caught my eye. I read that, from 1938 to 1945, Albania became a haven for Jewish refugees fleeing from other parts of Europe, and that many years later, a considerable number of Albanians were awarded the status of Righteous Amongst the Nations for their part in saving the lives of the Jews they sheltered. I had never heard about this before and nobody I discussed it with in the UK, France, the US, had either. The idea for a book was born!
In my previous novels, Garden of Stars and Under an Amber Sky, I had used the split timeline device and this seemed ideal for the new tale that was forming in my mind. The narrative of Out of the Mountain’s Shadow interweaves the story of Ruth, a childless woman in her 40s who is made redundant and goes to Southern Italy to seek solace, with that of Bekim, a young Albanian boy who, like so many in wartime, has to grow up quickly, in his case so that he can play his part in saving the lives of the Jewish people taken in by his family. As he strives to help the Frankls, and to ensure their survival as the relatively benign Italian occupation changes to an altogether harsher German one, he falls in love with Hannelore, a love that will last for more than half a century.
In Puglia, Ruth gets to know the charismatic Zak, a man she initially believes is Italian but subsequently discovers is Albanian. Bekim is Zak’s father and as Ruth finds out more about the war years, a mystery is thrown up that must be solved – and quickly because Bekim is dying. The quest that she and Zak embark on will prove to be both life-threatening and life-changing for all concerned.
I absolutely loved writing this story; the characters, the locations and the challenges were a pleasure to create and to grapple with. My previous novel, Along the Endless River, a sweeping family saga set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Amazonian rubber boom, was entirely historical and it was a nice change to go back to the split timeline for Out of the Mountain’s Shadow. I really hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I did creating it.
And I urge them to keep an open mind about Albania. It’s interesting that some of the publishers who rejected early versions of the novel cited the general public’s lack of interest in such an outlandish location. They claimed that people only wanted to read about places they were already familiar with; France, Italy, Portugal. But many of the early reviews of the book have stated how much they loved finding out about somewhere they had little knowledge of, and how fascinated they were by the descriptions of the mountains, the coast and the ancient customs. So I guess that goes to show that we should never make assumptions about what will, or will not, interest readers.
Albania’s ancient name translates as ‘The Land of Eagles’, and it really is Europe’s last secret. Not only that place of undiscovered Mediterranean beaches that the imagination dreams of, with a coastline on both the Adriatic and Ionian seas, but also one of wild and rugged mountains, untamed, a wilderness where it’s still possible to leave the modern world largely behind. The aim is to achieve European Union membership in the next few years and at that point, Albania will surely undergo many changes. I’m smitten by the place and I’ll be looking out for any more of its untold stories that I could bring to life long into the future.
Thank you Rose – I’m so looking forward to this one, and wishing you every success. See you next month…!
About the author
Rose Alexander has had more careers than she cares to mention and is currently a secondary school English teacher. She writes in the holidays, weekends and evenings, whenever she has a chance, although with three children, a husband, a lodger and a cat, this isn’t always as often as she’d like. She’s a keen sewist and is on a mission to make all her own clothes.