(by Virginia Baily, published 2015)
A kind friend lent me this novel when he discovered I was interested in learning about what life was like in Italy during the Second World War, as part of the research for the third book in the Janie Juke mystery series. The perfect thing about this storyline is that it is set in the very year and region that I had been focused on – Rome, 1943.
This was the year when Italians changed their allegiance and the English went from being their enemies to being their friends. In truth, I am sure that for average Italian the English were never considered the enemy – but with Mussolini choosing to be pally with Hitler, well, it didn’t bode well. Then, after a ‘vote of no confidence’ in July 1943 Mussolini was arrested and in October that year Italy declared war on Germany.
Early One Morning captures all of the difficulties of life at that time. It has a powerful start, with the protagonist, Chiara, saving the life of a young Jewish boy – Daniele – when his family is rounded up by German troops. As the story unfolds we learn how that single moment has devastating results for Daniele and Chiara for years to come. We meet Chiara again in the 1970s to discover how she copes when she receives an expected phone call. A phone call that brings back memories she had hoped to forget.
The tale is beautifully told, well written, and full of detail that helps the reader to see, smell and taste what life was like in Italy in the forties and again in the seventies. It was during the seventies that I made many of my own trips to Rome, with family and with friends. My memories of pizza al taglio is perfectly described here:
‘Customers were coming out of the baker’s, clutching pieces of something hot, wrapped in waxed paper, biting into it before they even got out of the door, so irresistibly delicious was it.’
And here, a description of one of Rome’s famous squares:
‘…Piazza Navona, with the three fountains, the water bouncing off the great white statues now and sparkling in the bright midday sunshine.’
All in all, the book was a joy to read and took me back there to that place and that time, without me ever having to leave my house!