Personable, gently humorous memories of adolescence under Mussolini by an Italian chef and author (A Thousand Bells at Noon: A Roman’s Guide to the Secrets and Pleasures of His Native City, 2002, etc.).
Romagnoli, who died in late 2008, turned 14 in 1939, when his homeland was seized by the nationalist fever incited by Il Duce and his Fascist Party. Living in a middle-class section of Rome with his father, mother and two siblings, young Romagnoli had sensed the ongoing “masquerade” since Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia several years earlier. While his gung-ho neighbors were vociferously devoted to the Fascist cause, Romagnoli’s father was a free-thinking agnostic who often received the dreaded cartoline rosse (“red postcards”), which summoned him to the police station for interrogation. As a result, his job promotions were thwarted. As the war progressed and rations were instituted, the family got by due to their enterprising mother’s cooking. The author became a bicycle messenger for his pro-partisan teachers and befriended a half-German schoolmate, Otto, who had more accurate news of the war. Called for military duty by the Fascists in early 1944, Romagnoli was determined not to help the Germans and fled to his aunt Elena’s farm in Frontale, where she ran the post office while also abetting partisans and refugees. The author assumed duties as a messenger and cook and became friendly with British and American officers organizing the command between the Allies and the partisans at San Vicino. It was a heady, dangerous time for the youth, and his portraits of these local heroes and villains form an invaluable depiction of a historically significant time and place.
Heartfelt sketches of a deeply troubling era in Italian history.