Girls of the Italian Resistance: A collection of standalone novels set in Italy during World War 2
In 1970 Gina Bianchi returns to Portofino to attend her father’s funeral, accompanied by her troubled twenty-four-year-old daughter, Hope. There, Gina is beset by vivid memories of World War 2, a time when she fought with the Italian Resistance and her twin sister, Adele, worked for the Germans.
In her childhood bedroom, Gina reads Adele’s diary, left behind during the war. As Gina learns the devastating truth about her sister, she’s compelled to face the harsh brutality of her own past. Will she finally lay her demons to rest, or will they end up destroying her and the family she loves?
Gina’s chest tightens. She remembers it all. The bunker built on the hillside behind the Magnifico. Mamma’s joy upon receiving that letter from Tommaso. It’s as if Adele were sitting on the bed next to Gina, telling her story, her words surprisingly perceptive. Adele always was the clever one. She’d have made an excellent journalist. Gina’s heart aches for her, and she turns over the yellowed page to read.
15th December 1943
I’m so sorry I haven’t written for such an age. It’s been hard to find a quiet moment. Gina’s shifts at the Magnifico keep changing, and she’s often home in the evenings when I am, so I can’t take you out from your hiding place. In fact, I’ll need to put you away again soon as she’ll be back at any minute.
Not much has changed since my last entry. I go to work every day, take the Baroness her breakfast in bed, tidy her room and help her dress. She gives me a German lesson and then we walk in the grounds of her villa, weather permitting. The cook makes lunch, and I serve it to the Baroness, who always insists that I sit down and eat with her. I have time off to enjoy reading a novel while she has an afternoon rest. I’m in the middle of an Italian translation of “Gone with the Wind” at the moment, which the Baroness ordered especially for me. I would love to go to America one day and see beautiful properties like Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara with my own eyes.
When the Baroness wakes up, she listens in secret to the BBC and I keep watch to make sure none of the other staff know what she’s doing. The Allies’ Italian campaign isn’t going well, I’m sorry to say. Using the forced labour of captured Italian military, the Nazi-fascists have built a line of formidable fortifications. Bunkers and turrets crossing from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic coast through the southern Apennines. Those fortress-like mountains straddle the boot of Italy from tip to toe, steep and impenetrable. And the British and American armies are struggling to break through.
Here in Portofino, everywhere you go there are Germans. We portofinesi used to think this remote corner of the Riviera would be spared. In the past, our visitors would come in a spirit of peace and for the pleasure of their eyes. But our so-called guests today are only intent on war and destruction.
12th March 1944
I apologise, but I haven’t felt like writing to you in recent months. There hasn’t been much to write about. And now I wish that was still the case.
Last night, the Allies’ planes returned. Gina and I were home. We heard the drone of their engines and raced outside onto the calata for a look. The bombers were flying in a V-shaped
formation overhead, clearly on their way to attack Genoa. We counted sixty-six of them, glinting silver in the moonlight.
Suddenly, the German batteries on the headland let rip. The British planes circled, then dived low. So low we could identify the concentric circles underneath their wings, which showed they belonged to the RAF.
Without warning, they began to drop their bombs. Not on Genoa, but on the Portofino Peninsula. Imagine our terror! Gina and I grabbed hold of each other, every bone in our bodies shaking. The echo of explosions ricocheted off the hills. My belly twisted and a sour taste filled my mouth. It was like watching something happening in a film. Except it wasn’t a film. It was real. Smoke rose from the slopes behind the village, the acrid smell stinging my eyes. Then Babbo appeared and he pulled Gina and me indoors and we cowered with Mamma and him in his storage magazzino until the terrifying noise had stopped.
It seemed to have taken hours, but it was only minutes. Minutes were all that were needed to end people’s lives. We ran back outside. A pile of flaming bricks and stones was all that was left of the building fronting the quayside on the opposite side of the harbour. The Luna Restaurant. Popular with visitors and residents alike. Bombed to bits.
‘Come on, we’ve got to help,’ Gina said, pulling me with her. We weren’t the only ones racing towards the bombsite. A line of people had already formed to pour seawater onto the scorching rubble. Then we dug, breaking our fingernails, and burning the palms of our hands before someone handed us a shovel.
The only dead person I’d seen in my life before was dear old nonna, lying in her coffin. Although stone cold, she’d looked peaceful. Not so the Luna family, who lived above the restaurant. Their battered, broken bodies were covered in blood. Their eyes staring sightlessly into oblivion. I cried when I saw Vittoria lying there, her arms curved over her head as if she was trying to protect herself. We’d gone to primary school together. She was engaged to be married to Emmanuele, who’d been conscripted into Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic army last month. Oh, Dio mio, my God. It’s all so tragic. I’m sorry. I can’t write anymore…
Gina drops the diary onto her bed. She clutches herself, remembering that night. Oh, how she remembers it. She closes her eyes, her stomach twisting, and goes back in time. Back to 1944. Her shift at the Magnifico. The German officer groping her. Stefano’s announcement that he was joining the partigiani, and her own decision to go with him. She was about to tell her parents when the roar of the aeroplane engines sent her running outside with Adele.
Thank you, Siobhan Daiko and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Author
Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and two rescued cats. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time, when she isn’t writing, enjoying her life near Venice.
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/siobhan.daiko
Amazon Author Page: author.to/SiobhanDaiko
Available on Kindle Unlimited.
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