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Naples '44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth [Paperback]

Norman Lewis
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 July 2002
Norman Lewis arrived in Naples as an Intelligence Officer attached to the American Fifth Army. By 1944 the city’s inhabitants were so destitute that all the tropical fish in the aquarium had been devoured, and numbers of respectable women had been driven to prostitution. The mafia gradually became so indispensable to the occupying forces that it succeeded in regaining its former power.
Lewis finds little to admire in his fellow soldiers, but gains sustenance from the extraordinary vivacity of the Italians. There is the lawyer who earns his living bringing a touch of Roman class to funerals, the gynaecologist who 'specialises in the restoration of lost virginity' and the widowed housewife who times her english lover against the clock. Despite the cruelty and suffering he encountered, Norman Lewis writes in the diary, ‘A year among Italians has converted me to such an admiration for their humanity and culture that were I given the chance to be born again, Italy would be the country of my choice’.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Eland Publishing Ltd; New Ed edition (31 July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0907871720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0907871729
  • Product Dimensions: 13.4 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

We oldies who remember the war in Italy know that Naples '44 is the real thing, pure gold. It has all the qualifications to become a classic: the ring of truth, superb writing and the magical lure of a book you cannot put down. --Martha Gelhorn, Daily Mail

Naples '44 is quite simply one of the great books to emerge from WW2. --Time Out

About the Author

Norman Lewis is Britain's greatest living travel writer, with a list of some 10 travel books and several books of collected journalism to his name. However Lewis regards his greatest achievement to have been the reaction to his article Genocide in Brazil, published in The Sunday Times in 1968. It led to a change in Brazilian law relating to the treatment of the Indians and to the formation of Survival International which fights for the survival of indigenous peoples everywhere.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I was hooked from page 1. This diary of a British Field Security sergeant in recently liberated Naples rings true in every respect. It is especially good in the way it tells how the chaotic situation among the Allies allowed the Mafia to reassert its influence. Of course, it was the poor liberated Italians who suffered most. Any person who has been in the Forces will recognize the truth of Lewis' stories of the complex relationships between the transient troops and their reluctant hosts. I had not enjoyed a book so much for a long time and have recommended it to friends.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling account of a desperate time 31 Dec 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Norman Lewis is, to my mind, one of the least appreciated authors and travel writers of this century. His books of his travels around SE Asia in the fifties are classics though have failed to achieve the widespread success that I feel they deserve. This book is a fabulously interesting account of his time in Naples after the liberation of the city by the Allies in 1944. This book left me with a profound sadness at the futility of war but strangely reassured by the inherent goodness of people despite incredibly bleak and desperate circumstances. This book provides a fascinating insight into the little described life of the rear echelons during the last world war.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
By CJA
Format:Paperback
Naples '44 is simply an incredible, brilliantly-written diary of an intelligence officer that is at times shocking and moving.
Armed with modesty, unfailing politness and, perhaps most impressively, a military pass allowing him to be anywhere at any time and in any uniform, Norman Lewis moves through the murky, dangerous world of wartime Naples.
Lewis, who died in July 2003, was a London-born Welshmen whose diamond-sharp eye for observation and subtle satire and humour depicts with warmth and accuracy the idiosyncrasies of Italian culture, and a city that has descended into chaos.
For Lewis, his stay in Naples was an unforgettable experience. Thanks to his writing talent it is also an unforgettable experience for any reader of Naples '44 - a fascinating and valuable historical document.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book 22 Nov 2007
Format:Paperback
Norman Lewis's son is a friend of mine and has been for twenty years. For twenty years I've drunk beer, watched football, told jokes and (in the dim & distant past) chased girls with the son. I even met the father once. It was not until I read the back of a Norman Lewis book last year & saw the picture, that I put two and two together. "Yep, that's my Dad". Astonishing!

I read that book,A Dragon Apparent, and enjoyed it, but not really enough to run out & buy others. I dont read much travel writing in general but it was undeniably well written, interesting & felt it was doing me good. On a whim I bought this one, Naples 44, last week and it is a real step up. Dressed up as a diary of a place in time (there's a clue in the title as to where & when!), each entry is a beautifully told story about the different people and circumstances that Lewis encountered during his time there in WWII. Lacking any sentiment and written in a gritty style, its a very visual work. I find the vignettes easy to picture and they deal with some of the realities of a land that has experienced war, at times harrowing and at others humorous. To use a Sun-tastic word, the book is "unputdownable".

I'm proud to know that I once met the book's author & I heartily recommend that you read this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic 3 Oct 2012
By J. Baldwin VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a beautifully written war diary, and it is all the better for being without cynicism or bitterness. Lewis was a soldier who so much appreciated the finer things about Italy - its olive groves, fireflies, birds singing and blue sky - that he is finally seduced by the country and its people. He works as an Intelligence Officer in Naples in the latter stages of the war and writes of the many farcical wild goose-chases he went on looking for spies and of his dealings with wholly unreliable Neapolitan informers, corrupt police officials and the like.

These stories illustrate the hopeless and futile character of war where all is chaos and confusion. It is not a glorious or heroic war diary - Lewis fired no shot in anger in the war - but it offers a description of the mundane and the unspectacular. It plots the experiences of a somewhat nave British officer as he seeks to come to terms with the intrigues and the cultural contradictions and ambiguities - what Lewis calls `the genial trickiness' - of the Neapolitans.

I agree with the description on the back cover of the book as "reading like prose but singing like poetry". Every page is a delight. These are great stories told by a great writer with sensitivity, humanity and good humour.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An enthralling snapshot of the Naples area in the dog days of the Second World War - a case of the right author in the right place at precisely the right time. Lewis was a British Intelligence Officer "legalised eavesdropping" on the traumatised populace, bombed - by both Axis and Allies - if not quite to the Stone Age, at least to a primitive survival existence. "It is astonishing to witness the struggles of this city so shattered, so starved, so deprived of all the things that justify a city's existence, to adapt itself to a collapse in conditions which must resemble life in the Dark Ages".

Lewis sees himself as a chronicler rather than a commentator - the book's simple title is a clue - and uses the diary format, a keen eye for detail and a frequently poetic style to build up a rich mosaic impression of the city. The reader is left, deliberately it seems, to determine the broader picture. Endemic corruption (both as a noun and a verb) of the occupation, greatly facilitated a Camorra-connected American-Italian US Army clique, the daily injustices of military rule (petty thieves jailed while racketeers walk free) and, most appallingly, the almost total degradation of women (and often children). Lewis doesn't pull his punches on his descriptions of the shocking sexual oppression by the occupation forces, helped by being published in the late seventies.

Over the period the situation for the Neapolitans gradually improves, just as the occupiers become more debilitated by the corruption, scams and intrigues ". The only false note to me is the author's self-imposed aloofness. Although an intelligence officer he analyses the situation disappointingly rarely.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A very personal glimpse at a fascinating social history of Naples...
Very interesting personal diary of a British FSO Officer in Occupied Italy which, in a somewhat fragmented manner, described the social and cultural atmosphere of Occupied Naples... Read more
Published 9 days ago by Bruce Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Absolutely first class!
Published 25 days ago by D. G. Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars An shiningly brilliant book
Maybe the best portrait of a specific time and place that I've ever read. Absolutely beautifully written. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Stella
4.0 out of 5 stars Survival necessities
Having a working background in Naples some years after the war - I had general interest and found this a good read from the historical comparison.
Published 4 months ago by Sparks
5.0 out of 5 stars Naples 44 - Brilliant Writing - A Classic
Wonderful, perceptive description of the sorry state of Naples, with its near medieval culture, after its "liberation" by the Allies in 1944.
Published 4 months ago by Vivian M Bentinck
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
Very well written,and provides a fascinating insight into the effects of the war on the Italian population in the Naples area.
Published 5 months ago by JT
5.0 out of 5 stars Crystal clear, funny and disturbing
A beautifully written book describing the chaos and anarchy after the fall of Naples to the allies. Lewis's sympathies are all with the sufferings and indignities endured by the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by barnvelder
5.0 out of 5 stars History told as it was
The book follows an allied intelligence officer sent to work on insurgence activity in Italy after the Allies have arrived. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mrs. J. Whitty
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best
Norman Lewis' travel writing has never been bettered. This insight into the last days of the war in Naples is vivid, telling, affectionate and funny as well as tender. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Lulubeth
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique view of a different world
I understand Lewis is thought of as a "writers' writer". His writing is spare/clean/direct, like a reporters, and he describes in rich detail an exotic town going through a... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Clive Bramley
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