Author: Susan Violante
Author: Susan Violante
Innocent War is not so much about war as it is about family, hope, love, and boyhood. If I have to read about war, I’ll pass up historical texts in favor of something more personal, like a civilian memoir. Even better, a memoir through the eyes of a child—let’s say a boy—whose experience of war is something that brings the quality of adventure to his life. Such a book is Innocent War, which tells Nino’s story as an Italian boy during WWII in occupied Libya.
Nino’s remarkable story starts in Tripoli, on the day that Italy declared war on Great Britain and France. Immediately bombs are falling precariously close to Nino’s family. His father gets called into service; food is rationed and dwindling; Nazis are expelling Jewish families. The pace and momentum of the narrative is fast and exciting. With good organization and focus the story chronicles Nino’s family on the move, trying to stay away from the bombs. At each new home, there is peace for a while; then the bombs start again. They have more than their share of close calls. At one especially exciting part they are evacuated by plane to Sicily and have to endure an attack in the air.
The action of the story is balanced well with the heart and spirit of Nino as he discovers and experiences new things. Ordinary occurrences take on significance through his eyes: he fishes for crabs, he bonds with a pet chicken, he laments the lack of girls, and he even strikes a deal with soldiers to shine their shoes in exchange for crackers. A youthful perspective and the urgency of war make even small events appear larger-than-life—like when the neighbor’s camel gets shot by a soldier’s bullet, and each family scrambles for a piece, rejoicing to be able to eat meat that day. As Nino grows up, his perspective changes and he experiences some disillusion with his country at the end of the war. The story ends here, when he is fifteen.
Besides a rushed last chapter that should have been slowed down and brought to an easy stop, the only other weakness is the dialogue, which is apparently a direct translation into English from Italian, so some of it seems stiff. I tried to read it with a melodious Italian accent in my ear, and it helped.
As a grandfather living in Florida, Nino dictated his memories onto cassette for his daughter, Susan Violante. Violante wanted to put his stories in writing as legacy to his grandchildren. Calling this a fictional series based on a true life experience, I gather she took some artistic liberties in order to bring this story to life and she does an excellent job. This is just the first in Nino’s trilogy.