I’d never heard of this book or the author and am indebted to my friend Heather for introducing me to both. Looking at the title and reading “An Italian Diary 1943-1944” I was half inclined to leaving it on my to-be-read pile. I’ve read enough harrowing accounts of war not to be particularly inclined to start on another, but there was something about Italian landscape on the cover which drew in me.
I was also intrigued to read that the book was a factual account of those years and had been hidden buried in tin boxes along with the writer’s jewellery to hide it from the retreating German army.
Reading a diary, the expectation is of an emotional life laid bare. “War in the Val d’Orcia” is not like that. The style is sparse, very matter of fact. Talking about a very sick young man Iris Origo writes
“We discuss what is best for him. What he needs is proper nursing at the clinic, but he is at the crossroads, the first place the Germans would search. In the end we decide to leave him where he is.
“And so I go to bed, my heart full of the murdered workmen and the young partisan, who soon must die.”
If this sounds dry, then it belies the courage it took to harbour wounded soldiers, escaped prisoners as well as over twenty refugee children, all the time knowing that if they were caught Iris and her husband could be shot. But even though they had two very young daughters they felt they could not abandon anyone who came to them for help. Together Iris and her husband, Antonio, fed, clothed and interceded with the Germans on behalf of desperate people, who had nowhere else to turn.
Throughout it all, Iris is conscious of how the Italians are being perceived by the rest of the allies and is keen to put the record straight. This and the history of that part of WW2 was new to me.
Although I had a lot of research into that period for “Shadows on the Grass” I knew next to nothing about the war in southern Europe. I had no idea, for example, about the number of political factions and their various stances on surrendering to the allied forces, or continuing to fight with their Nazi allies, nor of the complete exhaustion of the general population who could only hope that the long drawn out campaign would soon be over.
The book was a fascinating insight into a short period of history. More diaries have recently been discovered and I look forward to reading them too.
Thank you Heather.