Everything you never knew
and Italian coffee.
Artist Danijel Frka
Fascist Italy 1928
Trieste, once the port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, has become Italian. As fascism strives violently to create a pure Italy along its streets, Matteo Brazzi is forced to choose his loyalties with care. When his office is bombed, the police are baffled, but Brazzi knows who committed the crime, and he knows why. Though he is no seaman, he can easily identify the dark shape that disappeared into the Gulf of Trieste that dramatic night and, as he escapes to Cittanova in Istria, the mysterious vessel follows him down the coast.
Brazzi has successfully exploited fascism to protect himself - many people would call him a traitor - but he’s only ever had one real love. Now Nataša is dead and Brazzi owes his share of the blame. Too soon he discovers that not even Mussolini
can save him from an enemy who is bent on revenge.
'But worse, far worse than the stink, the machinery and his deteriorating self-perception was the need to leave this enclosure immediately: to escape the lowering ceiling and forge his way up to the sky. With the claustrophobia arose the conviction that there were not two people squashed into this iron cupboard but three. The third, an intangible menace, had arisen as he’d sloughed off his unconsciousness. Down the brief passage it had accompanied him, through the bulkhead and into the control room, and now it settled above his head, threatening and malevolent. By devious means it attacked his heart which began to thud wildly within his chest. Then it strangled his breathing. The weak tungsten globe fading in the clutch of its wire cage seemed like the last sliver of twilight and, as night closed in, the presence focused itself upon him. He felt as if he were travelling along a tunnel searching for daylight, with this awful phantom clinging to his back, and, at each moment, he anticipated the approach of the sunshine that would subdue it. But he saw no end to the tunnel. And no sun. And so the fear and the panic proliferated. It was distressing to think that he, a product of a comfortable home and a good education, had been reduced so rapidly to this desperation. The presence hovered just beyond his recognition so that he was unable to name it, but when he closed his eyes he saw its face melting like ice in a flame.'
Eileen Charbonneau, Historical Novel Society
Trieste is the city in question, but the smaller Adriatic city of Cittanova also figures prominently in this 1928-set historical novel. Mussolini wants to make Italy great again after the winning sides have carved up the former Austro-Hungarian Empire following World War I. Matteo Brazzi, Cittanova’s new mayor and cafe owner, only cares about himself. If it means promoting Fascism and “correcting” the multi-cultural society into seeing themselves as Italian, then why not? But once the town’s favorite son, Giovanni, is abducted aboard a renegade submarine, Matteo realizes he’s up against an old rival in the sub’s captain. The town bonds to solve the disappearance.
Florid and darkly comic, His Most Italian City bristles with life. Although the main events take place over a day, the past comes alive with eight years of back narratives featuring doomed love affairs, treachery, vivid family life, political and cultural philosophies and clever children. The captain’s beautiful wife Nataša is pivotal to the back-winding plot. The beating hearts of both cities and the submarine add much to a story reminiscent of the best of Joseph Heller and T. C. Boyle, with the added bonus of wonderful characterizations of women and girls. What an impressive debut! I look forward to more from Margaret Walker.
Sarah Kennedy, author of ‘The Cross and the Crown Series’
This is a very fine novel about the conflicts in Italy and the surrounding territories that it claimed after World War I. The rise of Mussolini plays a big part, though the man himself doesn't make an appearance (which I prefer). The main character is not a likeable person--so much the better when his enemy is introduced!
There is a lot of information about submarines, and I've never really been interested in submarines--but in this book it's perfectly natural and I felt very close to the action. I also learned a few things.
The plot, characters, and setting of this book are all wonderful, but my favorite aspect of this book is the witty narrator. The descriptions and summations are so good that I caught myself re-reading individual sentences and passages over and over--a sure sign of a book that I love.
Matt Macavoy, www.mattmcavoy.com
This book is not just entertaining, interesting, well-written and professionally crafted, it is also educational and enlightening, with regards to a period of European history which is perhaps often overlooked. Set in 1928, in the aftermath of the First World War, Istria has fallen under the ownership of a now Fascist-run Italy, the land wielded and occupied with ruthless complicity by Mussolini. The formerly Croatian citizens now find themselves being naturalized by Italy’s ethnic cleansing of the area, assimilated into Italian identity, and even having their names changed to sound more Italian – or, as many Italians suggest, “corrected” to their original Latin form. Like most manipulated Italians, many Istrians welcome this change, as both sides fall prey to the Fascist propaganda machine. For some, however, the occupation is too imposing an offence to accept, and a new cause is born.
Ultimately, this is a simple story of revenge, set against the backdrop of a notable moment in history. It is an incredibly insightful, well-researched snapshot, laden with historical detail.
The real star of this book is the author herself. Walker is intelligent, endearing and well-learned in her subject matter. With her own background and family history, she is clearly passionate about the Istria region and its history, and it is an enjoyable experience to be informed on it by her. She is also an excellent writer, vivid and descriptive, yet human and engaging. Her writing has qualities of relatability, yet also the authority which comes from subject knowledge. You can feel the history permeating from the pages, and it takes no effort for the reader to become immersed in its culture and language. This is not a quick, flippant read; it is a serious book by a proper professional author, and it is highly recommended for those who want to learn a little something when they read, whilst wrapping it all up in the package of a nice, simple story of regret and revenge. A good book by an author worthy of respect and success.