Italian writer D’Eramo recounts her experiences in Germany in the closing months of World War II.
Falling in the same subgenre as Curzio Malaparte’s Kaputt, D’Eramo’s novel is really thinly fictionalized autobiography. When her father, a devoted fascist, removed her family to the Alps following the collapse of Mussolini’s regime, D’Eramo threw herself into the fascist cause, volunteering to join a labor corps in Germany. After she had a chance to study the involuntary members of her unit, Russians and members of political resistance groups among them, all of whom mistrusted her as a true believer in the cause, she decided to head home in disgust with the Hitler regime only to be sent in a labor detail to Dachau. While working to rescue survivors of a bombing in Mainz, a wall collapsed on her; she writes that a German soldier was hit in the head by a flying brick and then, after asking to see his children, “slumped to the ground, killed instantly.” Told sometimes in the first and sometimes in the third person, D’Eramo’s account addresses not just wartime experiences, but also her subsequent life in a wheelchair, paralyzed by the accident and dependent on drugs; some of the episodes she recounts are as hellish as anything she experienced in the labor camps, as when, writing of her addiction to Valium, she notes, “How could I have forgotten that it was the basic component of the truth serum used by the Nazis in Dachau?” In her dreams she may be running, fleet-footed, toward or away from that crumbling wall in Mainz, “truly like the others, thrashed, spat upon, just like them,” but her realities are somber and rueful, the disillusionment of a 19-year-old girl who survived into old age but never forgot that youthful indiscretion. The book resembles Malaparte’s in some of its hallucinatory aspects, but it also recalls work as various as Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia and Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Castle to Castle.
Though a minor contribution to the larger literature of World War II, a strange, heartfelt account of someone who served a role few would confess to.