Bill Petrocelli

“Wounded by War, Saved by a Bookstore”


By Bill Petrocelli

Rare Bird Books, $24.95, 280 pages

Through the window of a bookstore lies the panorama of the dark world of Gina Perini, who has suffered rape, assault and torture and survived.

Bill Petrocelli has written an often bleak but poignant account of a woman’s tragedy focusing on her desperate attempts to escape from the unspeakable. It is remarkable that she displays determination to elude terrorist killers after fleeing a vicious, war-torn situation in Dubrovnik. What is even more remarkable is that she clings to the memory of a baby girl who would now be in her teens — if she is still alive at all — given the circumstances of her birth.

Gina has re-created herself as the eye behind the little bookstore window in San Francisco, but the past is and shall be always with her. The killers, from the Commandant to the Hyena, still haunt her and there are several memorable moments when she fears the terror is still too close to her.

Like the time on a boat when she has a casual encounter with a couple from Massachusetts who tell her they own a bookstore and have feared attacks before because of selling books that are banned. She remembers standing between the couple and the woman who put her hand on her shoulder, casually yet protectively, as Gina tries to portray herself as a part of the group. She remembers thinking “I wished I was her” before leaving. She never sees the couple again, yet it is one of the few moments of comfort in the entire plot.

And more tragedy lies ahead for Gina when she discovers that the baby did not die and is now a teenager called Alexi who has been adopted by the Reverend Wilder and his wife who run a religious foundation. What should be good news turns out to be the next chapter of the nightmare that seems to tread in Gina’s path. Alexi has been abused for years by her adoptive father and ultimately must be rescued by the resourceful Gina.

. . .

Gina is the voice and the soul of the plot. What remains astonishing is the strength she displays in a life in which her only consolation is indeed the view from the bookstore. It sounds almost ridiculous to suggest there is a happy ending. It isn’t that kind of book. Yet it offers a realistic conclusion in which there is a glimmer of hope for Gina and a possible future for Alexi. In their topsy-turvy world, a civilized home becomes a possibility. The inevitable killings that accompany events are in line with the fact that this is a strange and unusual but inevitable thriller of a book.

It is Gina who tells her own sad little philosophy as she contemplates writing what amounts to a personal horror story. She writes, “We’ve all been wounded by war. Some wounds come from big, brutal wars, but others are from smaller bloodlettings that don’t make the front pages I think reality exists only in our life stories.”

She notes that “Trying to isolate our own story is a mistake, because everything that makes life worth living occurs at the place where our stories intersect.” This is a fragile business in a fragile world, and “at times when you can’t sleep you might as well start telling stories.”

What is remarkable is that Gina has remained alive to tell any of her story, and that makes it worthwhile.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.