Fact and fiction weave together to create an epic love story which begins in Northern Italy during the closing months of the Second World War and will span the globe. Coming of age is hard enough for Pippo, the son of a Fascist Italian diplomat, but when his father is arrested, he is forced to question the old family allegiance to the Fascist cause. His mother, originally aligned with Italy against her native Britain, decides to hide escaped allied soldiers from the occupying Nazis, and in so doing finds that love and war often go hand in hand.
I have lived in the Tuscan countryside for part of each year for thirty five years. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth. There are areas of mountainous wilderness rich in wildlife, and gentle acres which have been tilled by man for centuries. Pines, cypresses, patches of scrub oak and towns built of
stone nestle on hill tops as if placed there by an omniscient landscape gardener. Winter can be cold and unforgiving, but in spring and summer the landscape is bathed in an intense light and a riot of fruits and vegetables appear in the markets. As autumn approaches dramatic storms rise from nowhere heralding the change of season, freshening and softening scent and colour. It is time for wild mushrooms and for the grape and olive harvests.
The descriptions of rural life in Pippo’s War are informed by my early experiences. I learned how
to plant and tend a vegetable garden, to live by the rhythms of each year, to use every season’s bounty wisely, and to enjoy the simple but delicious ‘cucina povera’ (poor kitchen). There were none of the privations of war but my neighbours Valetta and Gina lived much as they had forty years before. Gina tended the bread oven and made bread for us all once a week. Valetta, who had never learned to read, was the vegetable expert. She planted by the cycles of the moon and used only her own seeds harvested from year to year. (Both cursed the Nazis for parking a tank on their cellar and cracking the ceiling. It had never been the same since!)
Valetta and the author
at work in the vineyard
|Giardino Giusti, Verona|
I spent five years researching the history of the period and talking to survivors on both sides of the conflict. An old contadino told me how he had hidden a POW in a cave on his landlord’s property for a year. A POW described his escape from prison camp and his walk along the spine of the Apennines until he reached the Allies in the south. Another recounted his experiences with a partisan group. The soldiers spoke of the Italian people who sheltered and fed them with profound respect and gratitude.
The villa Paterno is central to my story. It is inspired by the many exquisite houses I have visited over the years. The garden and park are drawn principally from the Giardino Giusti in Verona and the Boboli gardens in Florence.
Paterno is a place of refuge. For Pippo it symbolises paternal protection: the safety his own father was unable to provide. As the war draws to its close, Pippo is parted from his soul mate Hannah. They leave Italy, travel widely, and make new lives for themselves. Will they meet again?
Pippo’s War is an historical novel full of period detail, an epic love story, and a classic coming-of-age tale. I hope reading it is as rich and rewarding an experience for you as writing it was for me, and I look forward to hearing from you.
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About the Author