Category Archives: Italian History

Book Diva Review: The Italians

theitalians2 Frances Minto Elliot has written quite the tour-de-farce in her book, The Italians: A Novel, which takes place in the 19th Century.

The characters ooze humor, gossip, jealousy, and all the emotions that the elite might feel for themselves and for others. Elliot exhibits excellent detail in her word images, and the reader almost feels as if they are there, in the midst of the setting. The architectural imagery is magnificent, as are the details of the clothes of the time period, the street scenes and the dynamics within the social strata.

The celebratory events are written in such minute detail, I was almost breathless reading about them. One can imagine the time period in its fullest, the elaborate dresses and costumes, the scents of the magnificently prepared foods, the uplifting music, the holiday spirit that filled the streets, the loud chatter, the hustle and bustle of it all, and the joyful dancing and prancing. And, one can also vision the hillside mansions, overlooking the village, and the poor neighborhoods nestled within the environment.

The social aspects of the book are written with bits of humor, yet the reader knows how the elite truly feel about the lower class. There is a love-hate relationship between them. Social stigmas abound.

I felt as if I was traveling in Italy, through the fabulous imagery that Elliot presents the reader, from one locale to the next. Within the realm of the streets and architectural wonders lies histories that go back hundreds of years, if not thousands. And, the citizens, themselves, are part of the history that the author presents the reader.

Although a historical novel, it reads like a work of non-fiction. From glorious wonders to the varied classes and events, I enjoyed reading The Italians: A Novel, by Minto Elliot.

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Book Diva Review: Voices in the Evening

voicesintheevening Voices in the Evening, by Natalia Ginzburg, is a book that takes place during the Fascist hold in Italy.

The characters are all intertwined through family and friends. The voices are distinct, as we move from one person to the next, listening to their evening conversations on life, on neighbors and on the village with its ups and downs. The conversations also include snippets of busy-body individuals, feeding on gossip and flourishing the gossip forward.

From the affair between Elsa and Tommasino, the reader is taken on a journey. Elsa is the narrator, and is unmarried, much to the dismay of her mother. Their affair does not take place in the village, and they don’t really have a passionate love affair. That is actually a positive, because neither one of them commits to marriage.

I found the generational aspect of the characters and how they interact to be both poignant and humorous. At times it is almost farcical, but the reality behind the farces are serious and sobering. The small village was filled with narrow-minds, especially the aging individuals, and everyone knew everything about everybody. This was very stifling, to say the least.

Ginzburg writes as if the individuals in the novel are taken from her family. She denies this, but the reader can see that her experiences living in Italy gave her insight into village life. It also gave her insight into how fascism was perceived within the Italian village mindset.

Natalia Ginzburg was brilliant in infusing life into the characters. Her word images were vivid ones. She captures village life adeptly and is masterful with her descriptions. I enjoyed Voices in the Evening, and am glad to have read it.

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Some Books I have read in 2012

The following is a list of some (not all) of the books that I have read in 2012 (in no particular order):

On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War, by Bernard Wasserstein

You, Fascinating You, by Germaine Shames

Prague: My Long Journey Home a Memoir of Survival, Denial and Redemption, by Charles Ota Heller

Rhyming Life and Death, by Amos Oz

An Uncommon Friendship: From Opposite Sides of the Holocaust, by Bernat Rosner

City of Women, by David R. Gillham

Who Shall Live: The Wilhelm Bachner Story, by Samuel P. Oliner

The Gates of November, by Chaim Potok

The Emperor of LIes, by Steve Sem-Sandberg

Italy’s Sorrow, by James Holland,

HIdden History of the Kovno Ghetto-United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany, by Marthe Cohn

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl

The Iron Tracks, by Aharon Appelfeld

Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls, by Karl Friedrich

Jerusalem Maiden, by Talia Carner

I Shall Not Hate, by Izzeldin Abuelaish

Dinner With Lenny, by Jonathan Cott

Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII, Italy, the Nazis and a Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation by Ali McConnon

The Amber Room, by Steve Berry

Soul to Soul: writings From Dark Places, by Deborah Masel

To Heal a Fractured World, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The Zahir, by Paulo Coelho

The Jewish Husband, by Lia Levi

The Devil and Miss Prym, by Paulo Coelho

Simon’s Family, by Marianne Fredericksson

Away, by Amy Bloom

The Dogs and Wolves, by Irene Nemirovsky

The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman

The Island Within, by Ludwig Lewisohn

The Gift of Rest, by Senator Joe Lieberman

A Mind of Winter, by Shira Nayman

22 Britannia Road, by Amanda Hodgkinson

97 Orchard, by Jane Ziegelman

The Jewish Body, by Melvin Konner

Two Lives, by Vikram Seth

This is America!, by Henye Meyer

Three Horses, by Erri De Luca

Jewish Roots in Southern Soil, by Marcie Ferris

Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House That Jefferson Built, by Marc Leepson

Being Polite to Hitler, by Forman Dew

The House at Tyneford, by Natashia Solomons

Under the North Light: The Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham, by Lawrence Webster

Jewish Stories from Heaven and Earth, by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins

The Promised Land, by Mary Antin

Joseph Anton, by Salman Rushdie

The Marriage Artist, by Andrew Winer

Unorthodox, by Deborah Feldman

Blackmore Park in World War II, by Fran and Martin Collins

Prague Winter, by Madeleine Albright

Rashi’s Daughters: Book III: Rachel: A Novel of Love and Talmud in Medieval France, by Maggie Anton

Rashi’s Daughters: Book I: Joheved, by Maggie Anton

The Polish Boxer, by Eduardo Halfon

The Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian

The Violinists Thumb, by Sam Kean

The Welsh Girl, by Peter Ho Davies

Three Horses, by Erri De Luca

I am still reading books, and there are still 15 more days left until the end of the year. I have six books that I need to write reviews for, and they will be upcoming.

Have a nice rest of the day, or evening, wherever you reside.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical Novels, Holocaust History, Italian History, Jewish History, Literature/Fiction, Non-Fiction, World War II

Review – Road to Valor

   Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy,the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation, by Aili and Andres McConnon was a page-turner for me. Once I began it, I couldn’t put it down. I was mesmerized and captivated by the compelling, intense, and true story of Gino Bartali, an Italian cyclist. But, he was much more than that, as it turned out, as I read with hardly a break between pages.
Born of poverty, in the small town of Ponte a Ema, in 1914, he would eventually become larger than life, a legend in his own time. Yet, little was known about his other passion, helping to save Jews during World War II. He was a silent hero.
From the moment he saved up enough money to buy his first bicycle, along with a bit of family financial help, cycling became the love of his life. He would cycle the mountainsides, the hillsides, the winding roads, inhaling the countryside, becoming one with the landscape. He dreamed of cycling, and was determined to win the Tour de France. Not only did he accomplish that goal, he did it twice, ten years apart, first in 1938 and again in 1948!
The lapse in winning was due to World War II, when cycling took a back stage to the events of war, and due to the fascist situation in Italy. When he did cycle, it became political motivation, which was not his intention. He did not side with fascism or with the Nazis. In fact, as the story unfolds we read otherwise.
Bartali risked his life during the war to shelter Jews and to save them by helping pass false identity cards that he hid in his bicycle. He not only incurred risk for his own life and their lives, but also for his family. He would meet various individuals in secret locations and pass the identity cards to them. Often times, he would not see their faces, which was intentional, so nobody could be identified if ever questioned by the authorities.
Within the pages, the reader also gets glimpses of how cycling overtook Italy as a form of transportation, due to the economic situation and political pressures. The reader is given insight into Italian World War II history, including fascism, Mussolini, the horrific hardships that the nation, as a whole, faced during this tumultuous time period. It depicts the horrendous treatment of the Jews of Italy by the ruling factions. It also evokes the integrity and humanity of every day individuals under extreme duress.
The war cost him chances to engage in varied cycling events, but he never gave up hope of winning the Tour de France a second time. He persevered, and in it he did, with ferocious strength, which at the time was thought impossible due to his age. In his eyes, though, that win was the lesser of his accomplishments.
He would eventually tell his son, “If you’re good at a sport, they attach medals to your shirts and then they shine in some museum. That which is earned by doing good deeds is attached to the soul and shines elsewhere.“
Those words encompass Bartali’s train of thought, and the reader feels it reign supreme throughout the story. His cycling journey took him to journeys of the soul, of the spirit of mankind. His life was one of humaneness and goodness, within his often boisterous presentation to those in the cycling world. Little did they know of his kindness and risk taking in order to rescue Jews.
I have been enriched, emotionally and historically speaking through reading Road to Valor, by Aili and Andres McConnon. Their contribution to Italian history during prewar and the war itself, is immeasurable. Their research was more than thorough, and their interviews and other factors of information gathering was an endeavor of high accomplishment.
I highly recommend Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy,the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation.


No permission is given to reuse, reproduce or copy any of my writings without my express written permission.
October 15, 2012

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Filed under Italian History, Non-Fiction, World War II

Review – The Jewish Husband

The Jewish Husband, by Lia Levi is a novel that encompasses the years of fascism in Italy. The book details the pitfalls of passion and repression, love and loss, assimilation, and infliction of pain and suffering.

  The format of the book is unique in the aspect that it is written as a series of letters to an unnamed individual, living in Italy. Each letter reveals a little more about Dino’s life. The reader eventually finds out who the letters are written to in the last fifth of the novel. The letters are being written in 1967, by Dino Carpi, an aging Jewish man, who lives in Tel Aviv and teaches high school. The letters describe how Dino met Sonia Gentile (yes, the surname is correct), and how he feel in love with her, basically, at first sight.

Dino was born in his parent’s hotel, the Albergo della Magnolia, and raised there in a private apartment on the top floor of the hotel. It was his home and his parent’s home, even though it was a hotel. His paternal grandfather was a Lithuanian Jew, and was able to assimilate in Italy without difficulty, according to Dino. The family name was changed from Katz to Carpi in order to sound more Italian. His mother was a “Roman Jewess”, descended from a long line of Italian shopkeepers.

Fast forward to New Year’s eve 1930, when Dino met Sonia in his parent’s hotel ballroom, as she lay on the floor, writhing in pain, after falling. “She was beautiful. In her luminescent grey and silver evening gown she looked like a mermaid caught in a net, struggling for survival.” From there Dino and Sonia’s romance begins.

Dino and Sonia begin courting, and he doesn’t initially tell her he is Jewish, as he doesn’t find it relevant. He considers himself and his family “Yom Kippur Jews”. When they speak of marriage, and she finds out he is Jewish, she is extremely upset, and states that her father won’t accept her marrying a Jew. Her family are devout Catholics.

Sonia’s father, Giuseppe Gentile, is a passionate fascist, and he is a highly respected and affluent banker. Appearances and social status are extremely important to most of the Gentile family. Dino had to make concessions and agree to certain conditions in order to marry Sonia. He basically had to give up his identity, deny his Jewishness, in order to conform to the Gentile family standards. They eventually marry in a Catholic church ceremony.

The years go by, and the restrictions on the Jews in Italy become tighter, oppressing them in business, and all daily life events and interactions, etc., during the age of 1938 fascist Italy’s race laws. Giuseppe Gentile’s ardent passion in fascism becomes a major issue in Dino and Sonia’s marriage.

I will leave the story line at that. If I go into much more, the plot will be spoiled.

In a time when Jewish Italians are not deemed to be of Italian descent or acknowledged to even be Italian citizens in any respect, Dino’s choices to blend in are what cause him despair. He makes decisions that will ultimately have dire consequences for him and for his family. Assimilation and fitting in to one’s surroundings is a primary theme in The Jewish Husband. The novel is an interesting perspective and study on assimilation, from the viewpoint of the Italian Jews, trying to assimilate within what they see is their own country, their homeland.

The novel moves slowly at times, but the prose is intense within many of the pages, more so during the last half of the book. Do not let any slowness deter you from reading this novel. There are some predictable moments, yet, for some readers, there might be one or two surprises within the story line. Levi writes with forthrightness and vivid imagery, as she tries to inflect how daily life played out during a tumultuous time period. She is sensitive to the issues of romance under adverse conditions, playing the fascist mindset against the Jews, and interjecting the conflicts of a Jewish-Catholic marriage under those circumstances.

There isn’t much written about fascism in Italy, and Lia Levi puts a distinct face on the subject. She gives the reader much to ponder regarding the oppression of the Jews, within the confines of the Italian ghettos and within Italian society as a whole. She writes with clarity and cognizance regarding the daily restrictions placed upon the Jews in Italy during the fascist regime. I am glad to have read the novel, not only for its historical and educational aspect, but also for the story line that blends religion and religious intermarriage. I found the boundaries that religion often forces on couples to be interesting to read and also compelling as far as insight goes. The Jewish Husband is educational in that respect, and also its historical aspect is well researched.

Lia Levi documents the era in time with factual prose, and with prose that will lead the reader to a deeper understanding of blending two religions and marriage.

I recommend The Jewish Husband to every one.


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Review – Italy’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945

   Not much is known about how Italy was thrust in the middle of World War II, with the fascist regime. Not much is known about the allied forces who were involved in the war in the liberation of Italy. Italy’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945, by James Holland is a book that encompasses all facets of fascism in Italy under Mussolini’s rule, and the German occupation of the country.

I was astounded while reading Italy’s Sorrow, astounded by the actual data that the book contained. One thing that was overwhelming to me was the fact that the liberation of Italy was more or less played down and given a low profile in the newspaper accounts of the day. The events of the Italian liberation sat on the back burner, because of what occurred a few days later in France…D-Day/Normandy’s invasion. Normandy was given full coverage, yet without the Italian Campaign, the outcome might have been different.

That doesn’t make the allied forces attempt to overcome the German occupation any less of a battle, or less important in the stature of battles fought against the German Nazi forces. In fact, there were more U.S. troops lost in the Italian Campaign than in other important geographical areas that were a part of the warring factions in World War II. The total lives lost are estimated to be more than the entire northern European Campaign, and in the end the total was almost 200,00 troops. The total allied deaths (all countries involved) were approximately 320,000, not including the battle of the final surrender.

From Sicily to Naples-Foggia, to Anzio, Cassini and Sardinia, Rome and Arno, events have been clouded over, and little is known about what actually transpired during the days from September 1943 through June 1944. The U.S. chiefs and other allied forces combined together, were more concerned about invading France, and the ensuing Italian Campaign battles suffered due to that reasoning. They also were not given the accolades, by the press, that they most definitely deserved. In fact, many of the troops that were in the Italian Campaign, ended up making their way through Italy, Germany and Belgium, and on through the north of France, making and creating a holding force, which forced the Germans south. Yet, little is referenced, voiced, or known about the Italian Campaign. Almost as many troops were casualties in what is known as the Gothic Line in Italy, as there were in World War I, and the western front. More troops were killed in Italy during WWII than those killed in northwestern Europe.

Italian fascists and partisans fought against each other in a civil war within World War II. Friend or foe, it was hard to separate the two. The poverty stricken Italians had many decisions to make, and some were heart-wrenching. Yet, many of the Italian fascists fought to save Italian Jews. For them, religion wasn’t the issue that divided them. The primary issue was fascists vs ordinary Italians, and fascists vs partisans. Genocide loomed large in Italy, and the Germans occupied the homes, land and buildings in the villages they plundered through. When they were finished, the destroyed everything in sight.

James Holland doesn’t mince words, graphic word images, and details, in his book on the Italian Campaign. It is filled with all the horrors of war, all the atrocities and genocide that the Germans tried to force on the Italians. Nothing is left unturned in Italy’s Sorrow. All the stones are overturned revealing the horrific incidents, and the violence that wreaked havoc on the landscape of Italy. Destruction was everywhere, bodies lay everywhere, bombed out buildings, homes and places of worship were a common sight on what was once a scenic land.

The advance of the allies was not one that was known by all the Italian citizens. One day they had a home, a village, the next day it was bombed out by the allies who were advancing on the Germans. Many of the citizens had no idea what was happening, or why. The Italians were devastated, their land and homes looking like matchsticks. The landscape was a bloodbath, along with the hardships of a muddy terrain.

I won’t describe details in full, and won’t go any further in describing the contents of the book. It is an extremely detailed summation of facts and historical information and documents garnered from newspaper articles, photographs, diaries, journals, witness accounts, interviews, etc. From soldier stories and accounts to the telling of the events by the Italian citizens, the experiences of the Italian Campaign are told. Holland is to be commended on his untiring endeavor to set the record straight through his endless research.
He wanted to set the record straight, and that he has accomplished in ways I can’t even begin to articulate.

History is not only depicted, but honored, and those who served in the military, and those who were ordinary citizens are given recognition. The book is extremely compelling, astounding, overwhelming, and one can’t finish it and let go of what they have read. The words find their own way into the reader’s mind, and the reader is unable to separate from the journey they have taken through the Holocaust, World War II, and the Italian Campaign. One can’t simply put the book down and forget about the Italian people and their once beautiful landscape, which was covered with death, carnage and destruction. Holland has brought a sense of compassion to the Italian campaign through his brilliant and masterful writing of history. Italy’s Sorrow is a telling of brutality, evil, humanity, humankind and human kindness, paralleled with fascism and the Nazis. It is a book that belongs in every school, college, university, and home library.

I salute James Holland for his steadfast concern in telling not only a story of war, but of military heroes, every day heroes, and a historical documentation of lives lost in the process of the Italian Liberation, which took place in June 1944. His sense of time and place, are crucial to the historical events that took place, and nothing about the events, civilians, military, etc., is diminished or demeaned in any manner. In fact, the military personnel along with the every day Italian citizens are given the recognition and honor they deserve, and their long overdue accomplishments are brought to the forefront. He is concise in his deliverance of what took place, and his forthrightness and need to bring the history of the Italian Campaign to the forefront is what impressed me about his writing. I highly recommend Italy’s Sorrow to everyone.

Reading this book (twice, and more, in some parts) has also helped me to realize the intensity and compelling events in a new light, and has given me immense insight as to what my father went through when he served in Italy for the U.S. Army. But, just as important, it gives me knowledge about what many of my Italian relatives (who lived in Naples, Anzio and Cassini) had to endure and what they experienced during this horrific of times. Some survived, some were not so lucky.

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