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Wonderful evocation of love, freedom and Italy
on 31 December 2004
A tender and enormously inspiring little book about his experiences in Italy during World War 2, this is Eric Newby reflecting on his loss of innocence, twenty-eight years after the event. Newby would leave soldiering behind and go on to become a first-rate travel writer, a man capable of portraying passion, excitement and mystery in a calmly sophisticated prose style. In "Love and War in the Apennines" we get a mature account of his Italian exploits rather than a contemporary journal or diary.
Newby makes no apologies for transforming his memories into a seemingly seamless narrative. He delivers an enriching and thrilling account of his experiences: life is experienced as a continuum, not as edited highlights, and life in the face of danger, in prison, or on the run from recapture is one long stream of conscious awareness of what might happen next day or next moment.
Newby was captured after an abortive attempt to play a rather amateurish 'special forces' role and blow up German bombers on a coastal airfield in Italy. He describes himself as a failed soldier, and the lack of planning, blundering ineptitude of the exercise, and the humiliation of capture still, evidently rankled twenty years later.
His captivity by the Italians would not last - Mussolini was deposed shortly after his incarceration and he was liberated before the Germans could take over his prison. There then followed a period of evading recapture, dependent on the good will and courage of the locals. The war is the backcloth against which this tale is told, but its subject is liberty, the freedom of people to maintain their humanity and their cultural integrity, and ... of course ... love.
Newby fell in love with the Italian girl with whom he shared an exchange of language - she taught him Italian, he taught her English. It's a sweet, almost coy observation of the emergence of a burning love. It's also an evocation of the way of life of the people who sheltered him and the emergence of his love for the simple honesty of their peasant economy and lifestyle. This, you imagine, is where Newby learned his compassion and his willingness to understand other people.
This is a delightful commentary on war from the perspective of a man who sees nothing he does as heroic, but who sees heroism in everyone around him. It's also a useful corrective to fictional accounts of what it's like to be a prisoner of war - . A very human, humble, yet passionate work which will thoroughly entertain.