Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace is set in 1943 in Porto Sant'Andrea, a town on Italy's coast. In 1943, General Eisenhower launched Operation Avalanche to bring Italy under Allie control, and the Germans, to beat off the Allies, invaded Italy under Operation Axis. The novel particularly focuses on Italy's protection of its Jewish population, a country that had the highest rate of Holocaust survivors.
The story starts with our main characters, Jewish Claudette Blum and her father Albert, being escorted by Italian soldiers across the Maritime Alps, between the French and Italian borders, into the town to be protected from German persecution. The Italians help the Jewish refugees and their own Jewish population go into hiding. In writing the novel, Russell particularly sought to describe the benevolent, protecting society of the town, a town that understood, "Society is held together by the simplest of human ties. A person in need stands in front of you; if you can help, you must help" (p. 402).