NAPLES '44 by Norman Lewis
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Sent as a British Intelligence officer to ""the world's largest village"" shortly after the Allied landing at Salerno, Lewis found Naples a place almost beyond civilized imagining. Terrible hunger is everywhere; seeing ten blind orphan girls enter a restaurant to beg for scraps as tears stream down their cheeks, Lewis notes: ""Until now I had clung to the comforting belief that human beings eventually came to terms with pain and sorrow. Now I understood I was wrong."" The trials put to the city are almost biblical: the entire population must be evacuated one afternoon after a report of delayed-action mines planted by the fleeing Germans; and later, as if there wasn't enough trouble, Vesuvius erupts. Cats are being eaten. But as an Intelligence officer occupied mostly with futile swipes at black-marketeering, banditry, prostitution, and corruption, Lewis develops an immediate and profound appreciation of the Italians: there's a way around everything; no one knows anything; things somehow get done. All sorts of things: vendettas, mafioso-rings (Vito Genovese is a honcho in the Allied Military Government), genteel impersonations, face-saving on a grand scale. Miracles are accepted, expected. San Gennaro's blood liquifies on schedule twice a year in the Cathedral; newspaper ads wish the city a ""good and successful miracle."" People who survive so deftly can only be loved, and Lewis loves them. His English reserve provides a humorous tension to what he records, but he was plainly dazzled at all the courage and wiliness. It makes for a fine memoir, the early impressions of a writer later known here for his Mafioso novels Honored Society (1964) and The Sicilian Specialist (1975).

Pub Date: March 7th, 1979
ISBN: 0786714387
Publisher: Pantheon