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4.6 out of 5 stars
Naples '44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth
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VINE VOICEon 30 December 2017
Its not often you read a book that's a real eye opener but this really is one of them. It uncovers a part of WW2 history that really brings the human cost to the modern reader. The author is frank in his descriptions and while working there in Naples really is something of the objective observer to what happened to that city during allied rule there. Describing the bombing of the city that still went on, the sheer level of poverty the people were suffering under, how prostitution was rife with residents literally offering their own daughters to allied soldiers and not least allied soldiers taking advantage of the situation. The rife black market that went on (The so called trials during the theft of copper wire for example or the locals using allied blankets as jackets and coats) It doesn't make pleasant reading but it certainly makes interesting reading.
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on 17 December 2016
This book is brilliant. Full of tiny detail, but very readable. Having two aunts who lived in Naples and married my mother's two brothers, who were in the British army in the war, it had a special resonance for me. The people suffered terribly, and showed amazing resilience and bravery. Neither the British nor the Canadians come out with much credit, but Norman Lewis was a fair minded and moral light in the midst e of some very dark times. All his books are fabulous, but this one is moving too.
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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 1 November 2017
This is a fascinating personal account of the author's year as an intelligence officer in Naples in1944. Beautifully written, the book focuses on the complex interactions among the Americans (including known mafia recruited for their knowledge of the area!), British and the Neapolitans coming to terms with the "liberation" and its aftermath. This is a great introduction to an author who spent a lifetime understanding disappearing communities around the world.
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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 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 December 2014
A very literate and detailed picture of life in Naples after the allied occupation in 1944.
The author describes its effect at the time, with the the dearth of essential everyday supplies leading to a complete breakdown in conventional marketing, bringing a variety of corrupt forces to the surface and turning society on its head. He cleverly portrays the people as of southern Italian culture, profoundly influenced by their religion, past history and even the behaviour of the ancient mythical gods.
His accounts dealing with the corrupt and devious people who broke the surface of society at the time are interesting, however I found him to be less than frank about his relationship with them: but one would be wouldn't one?
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VINE VOICEon 29 December 2014
Posterity is fortunate that someone who wrote so well as Norman Lewis was at the 'coalface' in Naples in 1943/44 as an intelligence officer. He has written a remarkable diary of his work which is much more than just a diary and has been edited to form a fascinating narrative, giving us a very clear picture of the horrendous conditions of starvation and privation in and around Naples, and also the quite mind-blowing corruption behind the management of almost everything including the police. While it is quite awful to read about the conditions that people were living in, Norman Lewis clearly sees the funny side of everything and the descriptions of some of the people and situations will make you laugh out loud.
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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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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2017
Being interested in anything Italian, this book highlights the difficulties that were experienced by the Italians during this period. In addition, it was very interested to read how information was obtained about the German forces and partisans. Great read.
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