Love and War in the Apennines

Love and War in the Apennines

Infobox Book |
name = Love and War in the Apennines

image_caption =
author = Eric Newby
country = United Kingdom
language = English
genre = Autobiographical novel
publisher = Hodder & Stoughton
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pub_date = 1983
pages = 224 pp
isbn = ISBN 978-0-330-28024-2

"Love and War in the Apennines" is a 1983 autobiographical novel by Eric Newby.

Plot introduction

After the Armistice with Italy in 1943, the author left the prison camp in which he had been held for a year and evaded the Germans by going to ground high in the mountains and forests south of the Po River. In enforced isolation, he was sheltered and protected by an informal and highly courageous network of Italian peasants. Newby writes a powerful account of these idiosyncratic and selfless people and also of their bleak and very basic lifestyle. He undergoes a series of bizarre, funny and often dangerous incidents, and in the process meets Wanda, a local girl who later becomes his wife.

Plot summary

Newby takes part in a Special Boat Service operation ("Whynot"), an attempt to blow up a German airbase by the Bay of Catania, on the east coast of Sicily. This is an ill-conceived effort to destroy some of the Ju 88s that were to be used in the bombing of a convoy bound for Malta. He and his colleagues fail to make their rendezvous with a British submarine and are plucked out of the sea by the crew of a fishing boat.

Along with some other officers, Newby is imprisoned in a camp (designed to be an orphanage or "orfanotrofio") on the outskirts of a large village in the Pianura Padana, the great plain through which the Po River flows. The nearest city is Parma. The camp's hierarchy resembles a public school, divided into the socially OK and the rest, its kindly headmaster the prison commandant. Newby, with the help of a friend, is just part of the socially OK but definitely at the bottom end of the spectrum. The prisoners are very bored and the only highlight is watching the village girls pass by on their evening walks, although the prison guards shoot at the prisoners if they poke their heads out of the window.

With the "Armistizio", the Italians decide to let the English prisoners escape and there is a mass break out once the news gets around that the Germans are on their way. Newby, who has a broken ankle, is aided by two large paratroopers and then is given a horse which he is unable to control and throws him off. Eventually he has to be abandoned and is hidden in a farmer's hay loft until an Italian doctor takes him to an "ospedale" run by some nuns. It is here that he is visited by Wanda, the daughter of a Slovenian teacher, who gives him Italian lessons in exchange for English lessons and a romance blossoms between them. The Germans discover he is there and two Italian guards are posted outside his room. However, Newby makes his escape and he is taken by the formidable doctor to the Po near Castalmaggiore and is told to hide in the woods until his contact comes for him. He is eventually taken to the house of an Italian family - the Baruffas - but they are suffering from "paura" - literally fear - of what the Germans might do if his presence becomes known. They tell him to climb upwards to the house of Signor Zanoni and he has to follow the path at night in the middle of an appalling storm. Zanoni eventually takes him to the farmhouse of Luigi and Agata on the Pian del Sotto. They live here in very harsh conditions with their son, Armando, their daughter Rita, and Dolores, the buxom servant. There is also an extremely savage dog, Nero, who hates Newby and vice versa. Newby spends the winter with this family and is given the task of clearing the surrounding fields of stones - a backbreaking task from which there is no respite. His days are fairly monotonous, only broken up by breaks for food, and he can only relax in the evenings, when the family sit around the fire liking to talk about England and especially London which they see in fairly "Dickensian" terms as a city of eternal fog.

One Sunday Newby decides to make a day's trek into the Apennine Mountains. He falls asleep and wakes up to see a German officer looming over him with a pistol on his belt. The officer - Oberleutnant Frick - soon sees through his disguise as an Italian and they start to converse in English. The German, who is an ardent butterfly collector and education officer, is too civilised to take Newby prisoner and they even share some bottles of Bavarian beer that the officer has with him. Another amusing incident happens when Newby is heading for the lavatory - the very basic "gabinetto" - when Nero slips his leash and he has to make a dash for the hayloft, where Dolores manages to grab him. He falls on top of her and she makes him kiss her - which he isn't averse to doing - and to promise he will accompany her back from the upcoming ball being held in a nearby farmhouse. Having finished shifting all the movable stones, Luigi then gives Newby the task of working with a "zappa" - a three pronged hoe - that he and the two girls use for breaking up the clods of earth that the plow has left behind.

The ball finally takes place but is raided by the "Tedeschi" - a part of a big rake up or "rastrellamento" - and Newby manages to make his escape. He works his way back to the farmhouse and waits in the woods until Luigi finds him. With things now getting too hot, Luigi tells him to make his way up into the mountains to stay with a shepherd. He eventually finds the sheep in the Castello del Prato - a natural rock enclosure that acts as their pen - and is welcomed by Abramo into his "baracca" or shepherd's hut. However, he now finally breaks down and he has to be helped into bed, clothed in a huge woolen vest and given juniper-flavoured grappa until, after three days of fever, he recovers. A boy arrives and Newby is told he has to accompany him to the village. A meeting is held and a decision made to build him a house. They set off into the hills the next day and eventually the hut is built over a cave and camouflaged. It is the month of October and he is given provisions and also firewood to help see him through the oncoming winter. Everyday he uses a nearby spring to do his washing - but has to be very careful to cover his tracks - and someone from the two village families who know of his whereabouts bring him food. He is also told by Signor Zanoni to come to a hut in order to meet Wanda and they are able to have a brief half-hour's conversation before she has to return by bus to Parma.

Wanda gives him a package containing maps, a compass and other items to help him get to the coast from where he wants to head south in order to meet the advancing allied forces. He manages to make the difficult day's journey but, on returning, becomes lost and ends up at the house of a very old man whom he had met previously in the car of the Italian doctor. The man, who lives all alone in a very isolated valley full of chestnut trees - gives him a bed and food ("polenta" made from chestnuts) and leads him back to the path the next morning. Newby returns to his cave and finds James, an escapee who has been living in the next door valley, and Newby is delighted to see him.

Eventually, owing to their presence at the cave being betrayed, they are forced to flee to escape the "milizia". They are taken by a young guide - an Italian deserter - to meet some "banda" but these fail to materialize and they end up sleeping in a hay barn. The Italian owner, who is a blind man, says he will help them but finally one of the women in the nearby village betrays them and they are captured by a detachment of Fascist "milizia". The book concludes with Newby's return twelve years later (1956) with Wanda, now his wife (they married in the Spring of 1946), as they revisit the places and families in the story.


* "Love and War in the Apennines", Picador (1983) ISBN 978-0-330-28024-2







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