Girls of the Italian Resistance
Bologna, Italy, 1944, and the streets are crawling with German soldiers. Nineteen-year-old Leila Venturi is shocked into joining the Resistance after her beloved best friend Rebecca, the daughter of a prominent Jewish businessman, is ruthlessly deported to a concentration camp.
In February 1981, exchange student Rhiannon Hughes arrives in Bologna to study at the university. There, she rents a room from Leila, who is now middle-aged and infirm. Leila’s nephew, Gianluca, offers to show Rhiannon around but Leila warns her off him.
Soon Rhiannon finds herself being drawn into a web of intrigue. What is Gianluca’s interest in a far-right group? And how is the nefarious head of this group connected to Leila? As dark secrets emerge from the past, Rhiannon is faced with a terrible choice. Will she take her courage into both hands and risk everything?
I smooth the cover of the bed in my guest room and check that everything is as it should be for the arrival tomorrow of the exchange student from the UK I’ve agreed to host. Rhiannon Hughes, twenty-one years old, an undergraduate at Cardiff University. I frown, hoping I’ve done the right thing. But, since I took early retirement from teaching last year, I’ve been a little lonely. If only ill health hadn’t forced me to give up the job I loved. I miss spending time with young people; my favourite nephew, Gianluca, seems too busy these days for his aged aunt. When I heard that Unibo, as the Studiorum is known now, was looking for people to offer rooms for foreign students to rent, I impetuously took advantage of the opportunity. Except, now I’m not so sure I’ll cope. I’m supposed to provide breakfast and dinner for the girl and help improve her Italian, but my energy levels are so depleted these days I fall asleep at the blink of an eye.
I make my way down the corridor that divides the piano nobile of our palazzo in two. Papà’s legal practice used to be on the ground floor, but now it’s rented out to a hairdresser. The top floor is for storage. Back in the day, it accommodated a cook and a housemaid, but no longer. I manage the cooking on my own, and a cleaner comes in twice a week.
Taking a deep breath, I step into my book-lined study. This is where I used to spend the afternoons, marking my pupils’ essays, preparing lessons, and researching. When I first retired, it was wonderful to have more time to myself, to catch up on reading for pleasure, to be able to enjoy just sitting and doing nothing. But nature abhors a vacuum, and my mind, no longer occupied with work, soon began to be filled with memories—fleeting at first then increasingly tangible.
When a bomb, planted in the first-class waiting room, destroyed the west wing of Bologna station last August—an atrocity attributed to right-wing terrorists—I started to remember with ever greater clarity what happened during the German occupation four decades ago—those terrible times I’ve tried not to think about ever since. My declining health has led me to fear I won’t live to a great old age. What purpose has my life served? Will I die without leaving a trace of who I once was?
I’ve attempted to write everything down but have found holding a pen for any length of time tires me. After wracking my brains, I hit upon the idea of buying a cassette tape recorder. My speaking skills have been honed by years in the classroom; it shouldn’t be too difficult to dictate my memoirs. I won’t publish them; I’ll leave them with my papers for posterity.
Just last week, I read William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun in translation. His words, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past,” resonated with me. It’s true; the past is never past. I can no longer bury what happened; I can no longer forget. Evil has come to Bologna once more. The fascists have raised their ugly heads again. With a shudder, I remember that man with the pockmarked face, the man I’ve always thought of as my nemesis. I bought a Beretta pistol—I learnt how to shoot one during the war—and now I keep it fully loaded, hidden in the cupboard by my front door.
Bitter bile rises in my throat. I swallow it down and open the drawer of my desk. I began to dictate my memoirs yesterday, describing the disastrous bombing of Bologna on September 25th, 1943, when the planes came without being sighted in time for any warning sirens. Over nine hundred people lost their lives in that raid, many of them caught in unprotected buildings or even out on the streets. Images of the dead baby and the young girl who died in front of me are so vivid in my head they could have occurred yesterday.
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.
Amazon Author Page: author.to/SiobhanDaiko
Available on Kindle Unlimited.
Universal Link: viewbook.at/TGF