Here is my review of “Love and War in the Apennines” that I finished reading again today. I would have given it more than 5 stars. If you are at all interested in Italy, then I recommend this wholeheartedly.
I wish I could give this classic more than 5 stars. I’ve just read it for the second time since I bought it just after university in 1976. All these years later, it makes sense, now that I live in a similar area in the Tuscan Apennines that he describes so beautifully.
Anybody with the slightest interest of WW2 in Italy should read this book. It’s autobiographical.
Eric Newby, at the tender age of 22 was an escaped POW and his account shows how truly generous and courageous ordinary Italians were to young British men. They reasoned their own sons were far away, fighting, and it was their duty to help other people’s sons. Despite their own difficulties in procuring food, and with the threat of execution if they were discovered harbouring POWs, they went to great lengths to look after Eric and others. This happened up and down the length of Italy and after the war, the British government was rather pathetic in the way they recognised these acts. In his Epilogue, Newby writes: “As is usual when official attempts are made to repay something with cash which was given freely at the time out of kindness of heart, a great deal of ill-will was created in this case by the Treasury, or whoever held the purse-strings, who decreed that any money that was disbursed to these people in 1946 should be at the old, pre-Armistice rate of exchange… which by now was absolutely nothing.” Shame!
Anyway – back to the book. Despite the background of war and death, Newby writes with such humour that I laughed out loud frequently. The personalities he describes, the places where he slept, the scenery, the Italian temperament and the predicaments he found himself in – is all spot on. I loved it. It is also a love story. He met his lovely wife during his escape. I slowed down at the end of the book because I didn’t want it to end. There is also interesting insight into the mind of a young man who feels guilty at times about not being in the thick of war, and we know now that they were (unfairly) given the description of “D-Day dodgers” by many. But, read the book for yourselves and make up your own minds. What would you have done in this situation?
I walk in the Apennines south east of where Newby hid, and this terrain is very similar. There are ruins scattered all over the place and now when I gaze on the crumbling stones, choked in ivy and brambles I will picture what they looked like inside and wonder if a POW was harboured somewhere nearby.
Eric Newby has written several books. He died at the age of 86 in 2006. How I wished I could have met him in real life and chatted to him, glass of wine in hand. RIP and many thanks for this masterpiece.
If you’d like to find out more about this enterprising gentleman, then his obituary in the New York Times is a good place to start.
If you want to buy your own copy, (but I prefer the battered copy of my old Penguin), then here is the link