When Jan Vidor, an American writer and academic, rents an apartment in a Tuscan villa for the summer, she plans to spend her break working on a novel about Mussolini. Instead, she finds herself captivated by her aristocratic landlady, the elegant, acerbic Beatrice Salviati Bartolo Doyle, whose family has owned Villa Chiara for generations.
Jan is intrigued by Beatrice’s stories of World War II, particularly by the tragic fate of her uncle Sandro, who was mysteriously murdered in the driveway of the villa at the conclusion of the war. Did he die at the hands of retreating Germans, invading Americans, or marauding partisans? Or was there another, even darker reason behind the bloodshed? Day by day, Beatrice makes Jan privy to her family history, exciting Jan’s imagination and provoking her to reconstruct scenes and characters whose triumphs and tragedies took place on the very ground where she sips a morning espresso.
Years go by and the friendship is sustained by infrequent meetings, always including long conversations detailing the escalating complications at Villa Chiara. Jan finds she can’t resist writing Beatrice’s story. But as she works on the novel, it becomes clear that the villa itself is at risk and that Beatrice is incapable of saving it. Jan understands that she is telling the story of a catastrophe her friend might prefer to conceal. Questions of ownership, loyalty, and the possibility of an unforgivable betrayal loom over her creative process. She presses on.
I Give It to You is the story of the dissolution of an Italian family, of sibling rivalry, of property theft, and of the rise of fascism and war. But it is also the account of a writer, an outsider struggling to accommodate the bonds and obligations of friendship, and raises this provocative question: Should you ever trust a novelist with your secrets?