Florence, 1943. Two sisters, Isabella and Caterina Cammaccio, find
themselves surrounded by terror and death; and with Italy trapped under
the heel of a brutal Nazi occupation, bands of Partisans rise up.
Isabella and Caterina will test their wits and deepest beliefs as never
before. As the winter grinds on, they will be forced to make the most
important decisions of their lives. Their choices will reverberate for
Here, Lucretia Grindle gives us the background on her novel, Villa Triste.
The background for Villa Triste is Italy during World War II.
Italy's role in the war is confusing, in particular after 1943 when, having
signed an armistice with the Allies, she was occupied by the Germans and also
faced an internal struggle with Fascism.
Italian Partisans were crucial to
their country's struggle, fighting the Nazis with one hand and the Fascists
with the other. I knew nothing about them until, while living in Florence, I began
to notice plaques, often small and engraved with only a few words and date,
mounted into the walls of the city.
Once I noticed one or two, I saw them
everywhere. On closer examination, I realized they were almost all dedicated to
the Partisans and that they were a kind of shorthand: that those few stone words were a guide to the
struggle and sacrifice embodied in Italy's fight for freedom. In a city full of
history, here was a history of ordinary people who, living in extraordinary
times, had again and again faced down terror, deprivation, and loss with
extraordinary dignity and almost unbelievable courage.
Soon, I began to look differently at the old lady who ran my green
grocer's, at the old man who fed the cats on the steps of my favorite church,
at the caretaker of my flat, at the flower seller and his wife. All in their
eighties, they had been alive in 1943 and 1944. Many probably fought through
the terrible winter that became known as The Terror. Given that more than 1 in
4 of the Italian Partisans were women, I began to suspect that these sweet old
ladies, as well as sweet old men, might have very unexpected pasts.
While Villa Triste is a work of
fiction, everything, down to the dates and locations of Allied bombings, is based on fact. The
sisters at the center of the story are figments of my imagination. Caterina and Isabella did not exist. But they
are based on several very real women, and their family is based on a real
family. There was a radio circuit. It had a different name, but its fate was
the same as the one in Villa Triste. Even the little red book is based on
another tiny book hidden in the hem of a dress. The modern section of my novel
is supposition; my answer to the mystery hidden in a real sequence of events
that took place in the terrible closing months of a terrible war.
I feel that Villa Triste has a
special and unexpected resonance just now. Three quarters of a century later,
our own country is mired in depression, war, and hardship. Many ordinary people
have yet again been thrust into extraordinary circumstances not of their own
making or choosing--whether due to devastating weather, the deaths of family
and friends fighting overseas, the loss of jobs, or most recently, the horror
of shootings such as those at Newtown.
Time and again, right now, these calamities
are faced by ordinary Americans with the same extraordinary courage and dignity
that ordinary Italians found in themselves so long ago. So, to me, Villa Triste
is a human story, demonstrating yet again that what divides and hurts us is
powerful, but that the courage and love we find to overcome that division and
hurt is more powerful still.