WAR IN VAL D'ORCIA:  by Iris Origo
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Coming downstairs this morning, I am greeted by the now familiar information: 'There are some Germans in the fattoria courtyard--and an English prisoner in the garden.'"" That's a typical entry in this plain, compelling diary, originally published in 1947 (UK, not US), by the Anglo-American wife of an Italian landowner in Tuscany. The initial entry--January 30, 1943--begins: ""The first refugee children have arrived,"" from bombed Genoa. And, through the next 18 months, almost every day will bring another stranger to the Origo manse or the nearby village. Refugees come in need of shelter. Over 200 partisans are living in the woods--and must be fed. Hide-outs must be found for Italian-army deserters, escaped British POWs, Jews fleeing from Gestapo roundups. German soldiers keep appearing--frightening presences who are sometimes hunting down fugitives, sometimes just interested in food, shelter, company. (""German troops come tramping, fully armed, into the garden."" But their demand is unexpected: ""Please--wouldn't the children sing for us?"") And meanwhile, as the villagers fall into ""despairing apathy,"" there are the daily-news-bulletins--about Allied bombings, the Allied invasion, the fall of Mussolini, the convoluted political power-grabbing in Rome. Like other civilians, Origo herself is ready to help just about anyone except the Germans, but intent on keeping the safety of her young family and her neighbors a high priority. The heroism is quiet, matter-of-fact, sometimes mundane. (""Spent the morning trying to alter the date of birth on the identity card of a young deserter who turned up this morning and firmly requested this service. . . ."") And finally the bombing and refugee-dom come to Val D'Orcia itself: ""With the children clutching at our skirts, half walking, half running, we started off down the Chianciano road."" Almost entirely free of the message-y quality in other Origo writings: a welcome rediscovery--evoking a unique, strange moment in civilian/soldier wartime-history with spare, vital immediacy.

Pub Date: April 11th, 1984
Publisher: Godine