WHERE IT ALL BEGAN by Ann Cornelisen


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A startling, unsentimental memoir about the author's discovery of Italy, subject of her several books (Torregreca, 1969; Women of the Shadows, 1976; Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy, 1983; etc.). Italy, 1954. Cornelisen, 27, recently divorced and on her way to study archeology in Rome, makes a detour south to the ""dour landscape"" of the Abruzzo with a woman, Gianna Thompson, who works for Save the Children Fund. There, in the coastal town of Ortona, she finds an Italy far from the ""saturated brilliance"" of Rome. Bitter and destitute, its piazzetta marked by an ""imposing monument"" of rubble, Ortona is struggling to recover from the war. Food and water are scarce, vermin and disease are not. Skillfully, Cornelisen draws us into the emotional undertow of this difficult place, as she was drawn in by her friend Gianna. The author shows this composed and courageous Italian- English woman, in her early 30s, driving to isolated villages to see the sponsored children and to try to better their generally desperate situations. In Ortona itself, these rounds take Cornelisen nightly to see children living in an abandoned mill--""a replica of those teeming, stinking, sinister tenements that once crowded up to the backsides of the Roman Empire's glittering white marble monuments to itself."" ""Fascinated and revolted,"" she repeatedly cancels her return north. Cornelisen plunges into Italy's landscape and the ways of its people with flamboyance and humor. But into Gianna's and her own life, she lets us intrude only so far. This reticence, evoking a well-bred formality of 35 years ago, and sometimes busying the narrative with minor details, sets up each revelation to count. Cornelisen's reenactment of an American's discovery of Italy flies in the face of the common infatuation and leaves an image that doesn't let go.

Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 1989
Publisher: Dutton