Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Review: LOVE AND WAR IN THE APENNINES, by Eric Newby
If you like memoirs about World War 2, Italy, love stories or adventure stories, Love and War in the Apennines is the book for you. A bookstore customer recommended it to me before I went to Italy last year, and I'm so glad he did because it's a really terrific book that I never would have found on my own. It's the story of author Eric Newby's experiences behind the lines in World War 2, first as a prisoner or war and then as an Englishman on the run, hiding and trying to stay one step ahead of the Fascists. It's also the story of how he met his wife, a brave young woman who helps him hide.
The book starts with the story of the naval operation that gets him captured in the first place. Even Newby admits that this part might be a little dry for some readers: "Those who are bored by descriptions of abortive cloak and dagger operations should skip the first chapter." That's good advice, but I do think understanding how Newby got into the situation in the first place is instructive. But the real story, the story you've come to read, takes off like a shot after that. Newby treats us to detailed descriptions of life as POW, the people he met, the social structure of the place. He also gives some insight into the progress of the war in Italy and I definitely learned a lot about what went on after Mussolini surrendered to the Allies but before the Germans gave up on them.
And that's the basis for what Newby goes through during his period of hiding. He's caught at the epicenter of the conflict raging in Italian society- in the homes of regular people, the divisions between those who wanted to obey the Nazis and those who wanted Italy to be done with fascism. Newby's trying to get south, back to the British but to do he has to travel, largely on foot, through miles and miles of rural territory, living in caves and brush, aided now and then by brave Italians willing to risk their lives to provide him with food, shelter, maps and supplies. It's an amazing story, beautifully told.
The things he goes through are pretty incredible, in terms of his emotional state, the people he meets and the landscape itself. The book is a kind of cultural tour of parts of rural Italy, highlighting linguistic and cultural differences in a country that was anything but unified in the early decades of the 20th century. If you're any kind of Italophile I think this book is required reading; certainly if you're interested in POW narratives or World War 2 it's worth seeking. It's a hidden gem for sure!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.