Review: The Girl from Bologna by Siobhan Daiko

I'm delighted to share my review for The Girl from Bologna, a gripping dual-timeline story set in the beautiful Italian city of Bologna, by historical fiction author, Siobhan Daiko. Wartime mysteries reach out over time, as dangers have not completely passed...

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The Girl from Bologna

Girls from the Italian Resistance

Siobhan Daiko

Historical / Dual-Timeline Fiction

Even though I rarely read WWII fiction, I was intrigued by the title and theme, so had to give this story a try – and it was well worth my time. I learnt so much about Italian history, and even though I remember the events from the 1980s, I never knew much about their background.

The Girl from Bologna tells the tale of Leila, a young woman growing up in a country in turmoil. Despite the German occupation, her studies continue, although fighting regularly ensues between the communist and the fascist factions that divide the Italian people. Leila is somewhat naive at the beginning of the novel. She spends much time with her best friend, Rebecca, but when she discovers them taken one day – their Jewish heritage revealed by someone despite their conversion – she wants to get involved in active resistance – and is shocked that not only her older brother (and Rebecca's student crush), Daniele, but also her fiancé, Paolo, are involved. But daily life is dangerous, and it's not only the Germans they have to fear...  

Fast forward to 1981, and young student Rhiannon rents a room from an elderly Leila for the duration of her language study exchange. Soon, the women develop a strong bond. Leila is in the process of recording her wartime experiences for posterity, to be shared among her family only, but her journalist nephew Gianluca soon discovers a link between Leila's past and his current investigation. When Rhiannon meets a mysterious fellow student, the plot thickens. 

I liked Leila's character a lot. With a calm, quiet intelligence, she joins the resistance perhaps not quite fully aware of the serious danger she finds herself in. Leila's story is realistically told, and the author does not shy away from showing the horrors of war, including the abhorrent treatment of women prisoners. I found it gripping and, for me, those scenes added a strong sense of place and time. The violence is not gratuitous, and the worst details are spared. But we get a true picture.

Rhiannon is a sensitive girl, hurt in the past by an ignorant ex-boyfriend, so when she and Gianluca become close, she is wary. But she's also honest and open, and her blossoming friendship with Leila makes for wonderful reading. I liked the way she got herself into trouble, inadvertently and, in a mirror image of wartime Leila, finds the spirit to fight for a way out. Just like Leila did...and does!

There are several secondary characters who are crucial to the plot, both in the 1940s as well as the 1980s. The resistance is well portrayed, with all their frustrations, fears, and daring strikes – but also their tragic losses. 

I did have a small issue with a secondary character in the modern setting, Marie, whose story and fate seems a little too convenient. But that's a small point in an otherwise riveting plot.

The author often uses Italian, which I enjoyed (though as an Italian speaker, I skipped the translations / explanations that Ms Daiko provided), and some German too, but always easy to comprehend within the setting.

The Girl from Bologna is a moving story of the brave girls and women who fought and plotted alongside the men during World War II, and whose personal fate – if caught – matched that of their male counterparts in terms of torture. The violation of female captives is a common act of war, and I'm glad Ms Daiko has included the subject, and she treated it very respectfully.

The novel took me back in time, and I was eager to read about Leila's story in particular. The modern tale – part mystery, part romance – adds a post-war point of view to it and, by referencing more recent events, showed that, even in the 1980s, Italy was still much divided...

A highly recommended read.



Bologna, Italy, 1944, and the streets are crawling with German soldiers. Nineteen-year-old Leila Venturi is shocked into joining the Resistance after her beloved best friend Rebecca, the daughter of a prominent Jewish businessman, is ruthlessly deported to a concentration camp.

In February 1981, exchange student Rhiannon Hughes arrives in Bologna to study at the university. There, she rents a room from Leila, who is now middle-aged and infirm. Leila’s nephew, Gianluca, offers to show Rhiannon around but Leila warns her off him.

Soon Rhiannon finds herself being drawn into a web of intrigue. What is Gianluca’s interest in a far-right group? And how is the nefarious head of this group connected to Leila? As dark secrets emerge from the past, Rhiannon is faced with a terrible choice. Will she take her courage into both hands and risk everything?

An evocative, compelling read, “The Girl from Bologna” is a story of love lost, daring exploits, and heart wrenching redemption.

Trigger Warnings: 

War crimes against women

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About the Author:

Siobhan Daiko

Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and a rescued cat. 

After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time indulging her love of writing and enjoying her life near Venice.

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