Posted by: billpurdue | April 23, 2015

The Second World War in Italy – fact and fiction

A month or two ago I wrote about the book “Villa Triste” by Lucretia Grindle. This is essentially a story of a modern day murder investigation in Italy as well as the story of two sisters at the time of the Nazi occupation of Italy. One sister risks her life helping to smuggle escaped prisoners of war over the border into neutral Switzerland whilst the other devotes her time to the local hospital. The crime being investigated by the detective in modern day Italy has close connections with what happened back during the war.

 War in Val d'Orcia

Following the blog posting another book was recommended to me, this time non-fiction. “War in Val d’Orcia: an Italian War Diary 1943-1944” is by Iris Origo (1902-1988). The author was an Anglo-American who had married an Italian landowner. Her maiden name was Cutting. On her marriage she became Marchesa Iris Origo and she and her husband settled at a country estate called “La Foce” in 1924. This is a 7,000 acre estate, which, according to Wikipedia contained 57 farms at the time the book was written.

The book begins with an introduction by Denis Mack Smith, giving much of the background to the period covered by the diary. This is followed by a preface by Origo herself which explains the conditions under which the diary was kept. She explains that life in the countryside during the war was much easier than in the towns, but life was about to get far more difficult before the whole area was liberated by the allies. The diary begins with the arrival of some refugee children from Genoa and life is fairly quiet. However as the Nazis take control, but allow the bands of facists to do almost as they please, life becomes ever more difficult. They are secretly listening to the BBC for news of advances by the Allies, but their progress seems painfully slow. As the Nazis are forced back, the Val d’Orcia finds itself directly in the line of retreat.

Whilst the author maintains that events in other parts of Italy were far worse, what the Origos and their baby daughter went through seems bad enough. What’s more, in spite of the proximity of the enemy, they continued to help escaped prisoners of war and partisans as much as they could. During all this the diary is written in a matter of fact way and ends when the Allies finally reach them. The drama of the situation builds and builds to a climax – no novel could do better.

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