Are you keeping up? I'm in Italy now but I haven't quite left the Levant alone either.
A Private Affair by Beppe Fenoglio arrived, translated and with an introduction by Howard Curtis (he of the Pirandello a few weeks ago) and with a foreword by Paul Bailey (he of Old Soldiers one of my best reads of 2007)
It was all a winning combination as I tentatively set foot in Italy at war in 1944 and another cover I love from Hesperus.It's only a pair of boots teetering on the brink of something, but what? Somehow it set the scene for the book.
Beppe Fenoglio (1922-1963) fought as a partisan during the Second World War and this is reflected in the book in that you sense acutely that he writes about what he knows.
The combative conflict is actually between the Italian partisans and the Facists but the real conflict is between partisan Milton, his best friend Giorgio and Fulvia, the girl they both seem to love to distraction.
Well Milton loves Fulvia to distraction and thinks Giorgio may too, but on discovering that Giorgio has been captured before he can find out the truth, Milton embarks on a mad trek up hill and down Italian dale, risking life and limb to find his friend.
As Howard Curtis says
' the journey at the centre of the book is as much an inner journey as a real trek.'
It's hard to tell whether it's friendship or anger that spurs Milton on, deeper and deeper into mud and trouble and whether, when and if he finds Giorgio, will he hug him or strangle him?
Paul Bailey gets to the nub of the thing.
' The best writers of fiction possess the gift being of able to summon up a life in a couple of pages while keeping the focus on the central characters who are explored in greater depth.'
The book builds to a frenzied last few pages and I was breathlessly reading as the action gathered pace.As Howard Curtis suggests it is indeed tricky to discern whether this is really happening or a hallucination but that uncertainty all adds to the excitement.The close examination of the words as translator also reflected in another excellent introduction. It must often be difficult to step back and see the bigger picture when you labour sentence by sentence, but what a connection it must give you with the author?
I sense almost a direct line to the inner purpose of a book as Howard Curtis elaborates
' it is surely not too fanciful to see in Milton's obessive determination to get at the truth of his memories a reflection of Beppe Fenoglio's endlessly repeated attempts, in book after book, to get ever closer to the truth about what he experienced in those grim days of 1943-45'
My ignorance about what actually went on in Italy during the Second World War now completely exposed as a tangled and uncertain web of confusion.If you asked me I'd have to wing my way through it and throw in a bit of Mussolini for effect.
Whose side was who on when, and how did all that happen?
I turned to my shelves and discovered a little book that I've been meaning to read for years and which has come to my immediate rescue, Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby. Eric is patiently explaining it all to me very clearly, with great good humour before I head off to Sicily where I suspect I'm going to end up in an even deeper historical mess about who what belonged to when and why exactly did they have Kings and Queens?
And is this where all the biscuits come from?
There seem to be Bourbons and Garibaldis everywhere