Redolent of The English Patient, Teresa Messineo’s What We May Become, is the story of Diana Bolsena, a US Army nurse, separated from her unit at the end of WW2 in Italy.
While trying to reconnect with her Army unit and so continue nursing in the Pacific, Diana finds herself employed first in a small-time brothel and then on a Tuscan estate, employed by the wealthy and somewhat enigmatic owner, Signora Bugari. An ex-Nazi officer, Adler, arrives at the Estate and demands a hidden secret from Bugari. Bugari is clearly terrified of Adler who is aware that the estate was occupied and used by the Nazis and therefore still contains valuable secrets which he believes have great value. Diana is warned to stay away from Adler but she can’t help her curiosity. The story takes a dramatic turn before an Italian-American enters the story and races the plot on to an intense conclusion.
The story is well-written, thoroughly and evocatively descriptive, generating Diana’s vivid dreams and recollections as well as painting a romantic landscape of post-WW2 Tuscany. The characters are mostly well-developed, albeit with mysterious, undertold pasts, as was likely the case in real life post-war Italy.
I enjoyed reading the book, especially conjuring the romance of that setting, but also wondering about the realities of people trying to survive during WW2 Italy with its changing loyalties. I appreciated the debate about whether to make use of human research gathered during WW2: to benefit or not from human suffering. Mostly, I enjoyed the interplay between the characters and the setting.