Salam builds a beautifully believable world around the reader, settling them in amongst not only the clothing and hairstyles, but also the values and virtues, of Americans in the 1950s. Bridget’s journey to Italy is not just a physical exploration of a far away land she has never seen, but it is equally a journey of growth and self-discovery. Themes of friendship and love, family structure and class, are also woven throughout this well-crafted novel. Salam even examines race and cultural identity ... Salam deftly explores the ability of an individual to come into their own and to learn to be comfortable (or not) with that person. This constant underlying current is palpable throughout the novel ... Salam’s writing flows easily, making Belladonna a quick-moving and enjoyable read. Her characters are well-sculpted and the storyline of first love, the almost obsessive infatuation with another human, is compelling. If you enjoy fiction with threads of history woven throughout as well as books which expose the internal struggles of the protagonist to grow and change, then you will enjoy this novel.
Anbara Salam has a talent for places, and in this age of lockdown, the half-Scottish author’s ability to transport the reader first to a 1950s Connecticut high school, then on to an Italian convent, is more welcome than ever ... The school scenes and the way in which they are described are at times reminiscent of a historical version of Curtis Sittenfeld’s brilliant Prep, yet somehow I always felt slightly dissatisfied with Belladonna ... Salam’s writing is carefully crafted, however the characterisation somehow lacks the emotional depth required to really draw in the reader. Shocking things happen to Bridget, yet they are passed over with little feeling or passion ... I wonder whether this flatness is intended to give the impression that Bridget – who has struggled with her own sense of belonging as a mixed-race American in a white world – is depressed? Uninterested in her own life? Perhaps. Yet, for all Salam’s talent for place and description, this novel left me feeling flat.