- Publisher: Books on Tape (Jan. 1971)
- ISBN-10: 5557105530
- ISBN-13: 978-5557105538
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,921,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Love and War in the Apennines Unbound – 1 Jan 1971
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'His masterpiece' Spectator
'Superbly funny … as civilizing, generous and affecting as “Vivere in Pace”, and the men, women and children, weather and woodsmoke are as fresh as yesterday' Observer
'A vivid description of Italian village life, full of notable characters … and the reactions of one sensitive man to being out of the war in the middle of one' Daily Telegraph
'It is necessary to state with emphasis that this is a very good book indeed' Times Literary Supplement
'An exciting story, superbly told. And wisdom, courage and generosity illuminate it' Punch--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
After the Italian Armistice in 1943, Eric Newby left the prison camp in which he'd been held for a year and evaded the advancing Germans by going to ground high in the mountains and forests south of the River Po.
In strange isolation he was sheltered and protected for over three months by an informal network of Italian peasants. Newby has written a powerful account of these idiosyncratic and selfless people and of their bleak and unchanging lifestyle – full of funny, bizarre and dangerous incidents interwoven with his hopes of the local girl who was to become his wife.
"An exciting story, superbly told. And wisdom, courage and generosity illuminate it."
Top Customer Reviews
It recounts the writer's experience as a fugitive in Italy after he escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp and found himself alone in the Apennine mountains.
Newby waited until long after the war before publishing this account of his experiences as there had been a plethora of PoW stories like The Wooden Horse.
In contrast to these mainly gung-ho accounts written as boy's adventure stories, Newby's is downbeat and centers on his struggle for food and shelter which was provided by Italians who were risking their lives in helping him.
Many of them were sympathetic to him even though he was technically the enemy because their own sons were in Russia and they hoped that if something similar happened to them, the local people would look after them.
His Italy is not the sun-drenched tourist cliché but the wild and remote mountains of the north where the winter is bleak and survival an ordeal.
The "Love" part refers to his future wife Wanda, an ethnic Slovenian, who popped up in the middle of this chaos and stole his heart.
Their initial conversations in his broken Italian and her broken English are enormously funny as anyone who has ever tried to form a romantic relationship with a linguistic obstacle in between will instantly sympathize with.
Overall, this is a good read despite the stiff upper lip English approach that tries to play down the horrors that were happening all around as the British and Americans were fighting the Germans up the Italian peninsula in one of the bloodiest episodes of the war.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
The first chapter recounts Newby's capture during an ill-fated mission to sabotage a German airfield on Sicily. While the author downplays his role for comic effect, it is clear that not only was there little prospect of returning home safely, poor planning and inadequate resources (other than a reliance on the bravery and initiative of those involved) ensured the mission had almost no chance of success. How many other young men were asked to throw away their lives for objectives that may have been important but clearly unattainable?
Newby's description of life in the POW camp and the emergence of an informal elite (which he terms the 'OK people') based largely on social status - and definitely not on military rank or prowess - is a fascinating pen portrait and reminiscent of my own experience in an officer training institution and as a junior officer (like Newby, I was occasionally entertaining to my own 'OK set' at best and definitely not of them!).
'Ho paura' (I have fear) is a phrase Newby gets to hear a great deal - and with good reason. It is a marvel that people with no hope of monetary reward or protection from brutal reprisal were willing to run such enormous risks on behalf of Newby and so many others like him. The author certainly wrestled with the question - equally valid today - of how much cooperation a soldier can reasonably expect from a civilian population he is unable (or unwilling) to protect from violence.
Fans of Newby's will delight in the usual wit and acute eye of his work, and in this case may - as I did - find something further to think about than his usual amusing and diverting travelogue.
With this particular tale it's one of beating extreme odds. He defies capture so many times in so many ways and literally like a storybook again in the end (no spoilers). A movie script couldn't do this tale justice; CBS tried to make a TV movie out of it but it wasn't nearly so powerful as this story. Reading this story will make you understand why Eric Newby never cared whether he succeeded in making the goals of his adventures afterward, because his life was already the adventure. No doubt he learned this along with the self-perseverance in this tale. By the time he sets out from the British sub it becomes a mission impossible he dubs "operation whynot" ostensibly to attack the Nazi airfield on the island of Sicily nearly single-handedly. From the beginning this book will capture you as he is captured.
The love of his life he gains in this story is the ultimate time he truly beats the odds though. Wanda Newby herself is an amazing woman and the fact that she stuck with him until he passed away in 2006 is incredible given the misadventures that followed in tales like Slowly Down the Ganges.
Eric Newby to me is the real life Tom Bombadil of JRR Tolkien's LOTR; down to the very canyon he hikes crawls and falls down into the gorgeous river valley and the old man he meets there with a skeleton key to his house the size of a castle lock which he forged himself. Eric Newby found meaning in life most of us cannot fathom. At least read this book and you will have catch a glimpse. Read on to his other books if you want the true dharma in the Eric Newby collection.
Those familiar with Newby's other books will find his signature wit, self-deprecating humor and descriptive powers at work here, but his curiosity and appreciation of other people and cultures is in highest gear. He comes to meet the peasantry of northern Italy after fleeing a prison during the chaos following the ouster of Mussolini in September 1943. He is helped by a succession of individuals and families, including the woman who would become his wife and companion in later adventures, the estimable Wanda. The book ends with his unfortunate recapture by the Germans and in an epilogue he revisits the people who took him in ten years after.
Newby is a hugely gifted writer, his sentences are knowing and clear as a bell. He orders information rhythmically, always knows when less is more and more is more. He never bows to sentimentality, never sells anyone out. He does a remarkable job of expressing the fear and dispiritedness that politics and war heave on a people, at the same time revealing their resilience. There is much to admire in this book.
On the lam in 1943, running from both the Nazis and local Facisti still in charge after Mussolini's downfall, Newby is aided by scores of Italian civilians tired of war and Germans, risking their lives on his behalf. Among them, pivotally, is the beautiful Slovene exile Wanda, Newby's destined life partner.
While the love story and the war story are both threaded throughout the book weaving it together, the fabric consists of the bravery, cunning and generosity of the people who housed, hid and fed him, at great personal risk: execution by the Germans for harboring an escaped POW. Enfolded within that fabric is Newby's recounting of their simple lives: the meagre food they grew and ate, the wine and grappa they produced and drank, the threadbare clothes they wore, their rustic homes and beds, their animals, entertainments, superstitions and beliefs. Lives whose substance had not much changed over centuries, but now unrecognizable from an early 21st century perspective.
It reminded me how much our post-war Western lives have changed--for the better, in most regards, I'd say, though one could argue as to the quality of changes that have separated so many of us from the land, tradition and self-reliance. But in the war-weary Italy of 1943, rural life was grim and brutal: food scarce, labor unrelieved, fear rampant. Those "good old days" seem indeed old but hardly good.