on 5 January 2002
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.
on 31 December 1998
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.
on 7 January 2004
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to his writing talent it is also an unforgettable experience for any reader of Naples '44 - a fascinating and valuable historical document.
This is a superb, understated but powerful account of life as an intelligence officer (or rather, a glorified policeman) in the wilderness of mirrors that was post-liberation southern Italy. Here are starving, nouveaux pauvres aristocrats, desperate women who see no alternative to prostitution, corrupt local officials (occasionally former Fascists who have wormed their way into Allies' usefulness), American Mafiosi using the US Army's sway to reestablish regional control.
Norman Lewis' diaries are full of horror at what colleagues got up to, admiration of the perseverance of Italians coping with new indignities and uncertainties. He writes with great humanity but without a tabloid self-righteousness or claims to total grasp of context. He is an explorer who is trying to manage an impossible (and opaque) job description.
This is an excellent and highly readable account of what happens with society's certainties and structures have completely crumbled and people are left somehow to rebuild shattered lives.
on 26 August 2011
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. He undoubtedly has "such and admiration for their humanity and culture" but there is still just a whiff of English superiority in his occasionally vaguely patronising descriptions e.g "genial trickeries" of the Italians. The Italians actually come out much better in this tale than the Brits and especially the Americans; the strength of their culture pulling them through yet another catastrophic alien invasion.
on 22 November 2007
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.
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 naïve 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.
This is our current reading group choice and I am thankful that it is. I have never read this before and so it has come us a pleasant surprise to find what a fascinating and interesting book this is. Written by Norman Lewis this is his journal from his period in Southern Italy. Despite the title this journal starts off on 8th September 1943, through to 24th October 1944.
As Southern Italy falls to the Allies Lewis was sent in as a member of the Field Security Service. His position as such was rather a grey area as not all his duties were properly outlined. With his descriptions of the area and landscape, and the many people he met he also goes into the state of the area, and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Offering a fascinating insight into what he witnessed and observed this book although relatively short takes in so much. The world that Lewis entered was really quite surreal. There was still bombing raids form the Luftwaffe, but also there were raids on military bases and personnel, although these latter were being carried out by bandits. Amongst the beautiful scenery we are taken into a world that in many ways was still in a Medieval state, corruption rife and virtually anything obtainable with enough money. With ways and traditions that were definitely alien to Lewis as well as so many others we read about the Catholic superstitions concerning saints, the Mafia and bandits all profiteering, and the black market and corruption.
This book leads you in a journey that is unforgettable and is a pure joy to read, which I would encourage others to pick up. A truly remarkable and fascinating read.
on 26 August 2012
Written in 1977 or so, Naples '44 describes a year in Lewis's life in 1944, when as a member of the British Army Field Security Service he was in Naples as part of the Allied (mostly U.S.)Military government in Southern Italy, whilst the Allies continued to fight a stubborn retreating German army as it moved through central and northern Italy.
He vividly describes the scene in and around Naples, where the criminal element, mostly controlled by the Mafia, held sway, with the tacit knowledge and support of the U.S. Army brass. Vito Genovese, second in command to Lucky Luciano in the NY State Mafia had escaped to Italy and was in cahoots with the U.S. Military Government in Naples.
Supplies, including much needed pharmaceuticals, were being looted from Allied supply trains and sold brazenly on the black Market. Norman Lewis describes much of this at the ground level, from his rank as an Army sergeant. Somehow the civil population survived, amidst appalling shortages, with courage and humour.
When this book was first read by me in 2004, it bore reminders of what was then happening in 'liberated' Iraq. Nothing had changed. Rereading the book in 2012 with the mess of Afganistan still lingering in our minds reminds us once again how hard it is to bring peace order and good government back to a war torn country.
Naples '44 is truly a classic of reporting on the horrors of war.
on 17 August 2014
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 and the surrounding area. it was interesting in that the role of the FSO was only loosely defined; in some matters, they (the FSO's) simply turned their heads. In other issues dealing with the occupation, including vetting local nationals, they pursued their interests with unusual passion. Each of the FSO's permitted their personal feelings to influence their policy decisions and findings during investigations.Some were empathetic to the circumstances and others outright hostile and prejudice toward the locals. It was amazing that the occupation succeeded. The reasons for the success were described in detail by the author and it had more to do with the traditions and culture of the Italians then the British mandates. This was the fascinating part of the story. It was only after I read the book that I found the CV of Normal Lewis on the last page. He was an extraordinary writer and lived a life of adventure and travel. His background
certainly gave new credibility to this book and his personal diary. I enjoyed the book and will probably find something else by this other. His book on 1939 Seville ( The Tomb in Seville) sounds interesting.