Guest Blogger: Lucretia Grindle on "Villa Triste"
Florence, 1943. Two sisters, Isabella and Caterina Cammaccio, find
themselves surrounded by terror and death; and with Italy trapped under
the heel of a brutal Nazi occupation, bands of Partisans rise up.
Soon Isabella and Caterina will test their wits and deepest beliefs as never before. As the winter grinds on, they will be forced to make the most important decisions of their lives. Their choices will reverberate for decades.
Here, Lucretia Grindle gives us the background on her novel, Villa Triste.
The background for Villa Triste is Italy during World War II. Italy's role in the war is confusing, in particular after 1943 when, having signed an armistice with the Allies, she was occupied by the Germans and also faced an internal struggle with Fascism.
Italian Partisans were crucial to their country's struggle, fighting the Nazis with one hand and the Fascists with the other. I knew nothing about them until, while living in Florence, I began to notice plaques, often small and engraved with only a few words and date, mounted into the walls of the city.
Once I noticed one or two, I saw them everywhere. On closer examination, I realized they were almost all dedicated to the Partisans and that they were a kind of shorthand: that those few stone words were a guide to the struggle and sacrifice embodied in Italy's fight for freedom. In a city full of history, here was a history of ordinary people who, living in extraordinary times, had again and again faced down terror, deprivation, and loss with extraordinary dignity and almost unbelievable courage.
Soon, I began to look differently at the old lady who ran my green grocer's, at the old man who fed the cats on the steps of my favorite church, at the caretaker of my flat, at the flower seller and his wife. All in their eighties, they had been alive in 1943 and 1944. Many probably fought through the terrible winter that became known as The Terror. Given that more than 1 in 4 of the Italian Partisans were women, I began to suspect that these sweet old ladies, as well as sweet old men, might have very unexpected pasts.
While Villa Triste is a work of fiction, everything, down to the dates and locations of Allied bombings, is based on fact. The sisters at the center of the story are figments of my imagination. Caterina and Isabella did not exist. But they are based on several very real women, and their family is based on a real family. There was a radio circuit. It had a different name, but its fate was the same as the one in Villa Triste. Even the little red book is based on another tiny book hidden in the hem of a dress. The modern section of my novel is supposition; my answer to the mystery hidden in a real sequence of events that took place in the terrible closing months of a terrible war.
I feel that Villa Triste has a special and unexpected resonance just now. Three quarters of a century later, our own country is mired in depression, war, and hardship. Many ordinary people have yet again been thrust into extraordinary circumstances not of their own making or choosing--whether due to devastating weather, the deaths of family and friends fighting overseas, the loss of jobs, or most recently, the horror of shootings such as those at Newtown.
Time and again, right now, these calamities are faced by ordinary Americans with the same extraordinary courage and dignity that ordinary Italians found in themselves so long ago. So, to me, Villa Triste is a human story, demonstrating yet again that what divides and hurts us is powerful, but that the courage and love we find to overcome that division and hurt is more powerful still.
With best wishes for 2013,