Innocent War by Susan Violante (Canada) - (US)
Nino Series No. 1
Finished: Jan. 10, 2010
First Published: Apr. 17, 2009
Genre: historical fiction
"Nino, wake up! You're going to be late," hollered Papa from the hallway outside of my room.
Acquired: I received a review copy from the book's publicist.
Reason for Reading: The plot and point of view intrigued me.
Summary: The author received five cassette tapes from her father recording his life story and she has started to turn them into a fictionalized biography of her father's life with this first volume covering young Nino's life from age 10 to 15, years 1940 to 1945. Nino is born in Italy but soon moves with his family to Tripoli in the Italian Colony of Libya. His father is a construction worker and the Italians in the Colony are indoctrinated by Mussolini via the radio and propaganda, children must attend weekly youth meetings. But these people are far removed from Europe, they have no proper understanding of the war, nor how it affects them until the day the radio announces that Italy is at war with France and Britain and simultaneously the town of Tripoli is attacked by French bombers, leaving dead, injured and rubble behind them. This then is the story of an Italian family living in Libya trying to survive in the war torn country told through the eyes of a child.
Comments: Before commenting on the story I must quickly say this first. The book is self-published (not necessarily a bad thing) but really needs editing. There are some typos, many awkward sentences and quite a number of grammatical errors, such as the one that annoyed me the most: the use of the word "on" instead of "in" throughout the book and quite often the reverse as well. 'Nuff said.
The story itself was delightful. Nino and his mother Maria are wonderful, full characters with many layers. This is a very unusual point of view for a World War II story and I really appreciated experiencing it, especially knowing that it is based on fact. The Italians in Libya have no idea why they are suddenly being bombed, then the Italian and Nazi soldiers arrive. The Nazi's immediately intimidate the people and Nino and his family watch in horror as Sarah, their Jewish babysitter's, family is taken away in the night. Having made a prior promise to the mother, Sarah has become their cousin, Rita, from Naples as they keep her in their house. Told through a child's eyes we see the horror, the hardships, the death of war but as a child we also see the adventures a boy can have, the escapades and ideas he comes up with that sometimes benefit the family and sometimes get him in trouble. He is an innocent child living the life he has been given and yet this is also a coming of age story as the boy becomes a man and can discern the truth behind what he sees. As a little boy he sees the Italian soldiers as heroes but when he sees up close and personal on a train how a soldier abuses a man, Nino knows he never wants to be a soldier.
A delightful read which can be harrowing and humourous, heart-wrenching and heart-warming.