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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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.
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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to his writing talent it is also an unforgettable experience for any reader of Naples '44 - a fascinating and valuable historical document.
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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.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon 16 July 2013
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.
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VINE VOICEon 3 October 2012
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.
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on 19 April 2015
I've been reading Norman Lewis and re-reading some I've already read. He has an amazing voice when writing - clear, stood back, often amused by what he sees, and always interested. The novels somewhat less so, but he did write a novel, The Sicilian Expert, which described the mafia involvement in JFK's death well before the others. Naples '44 gives us all the background on how incompetent the Americans were when entering southern Italy in '43 - the shore being piled with typewriters while the Germans shot down on defenceless troops left without appropriate weapons and ammunition, all the generals offshore on the transport ships, etc. Then on to Naples where it was definitely Catch 22. His knowledge of Italian and his love of the people and place make this a well-rounded story. Highly recommended even if you don't like war stories - which I don't.
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on 22 December 2015
If you are interested in Italy or even just Naples you will find this account of Lewis's time in the Naples area at the end of the Second World war fascinating. Naples, of course, has been ruled by foreigners since time immemorial but somehow the local warlords, the bandits, and the poverty have all managed to survive, and in Lewis's account you can sense how the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra, could proliferate it such circumstances. In fact it would be true to say that they made significant headway in the aftermath of the war despite Mussolini's purges in the pre-war years. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 5 November 2003
Perhaps that's a little harsh. There's plenty on Amazon that isn't rough - indeed, there's plenty of diamonds too. The most dazzling of them all though is Naples '44, a gemstone which reflects one man's mastery of fluid yet taut prose and his knack for surfacing in the singular circumstance. (While serving with the Intelligence Corp, Lewis was issued the government pass which bore the legend, 'The bearer is entitled to be in any place and wearing any uniform he chooses. All persons subject to military law are required to give any assistance he needs.') The kind of book that makes you wish that every person alive was aware of it.
I'd be a cretin if I didn't praise the publisher, Eland of London. Their commitment to a list of unexceptionable integrity and the long lost pride in wares is all the more vivid because of its conspicuous infrequency.
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