Historical fiction novels about Italy during World War II always seem to fascinate me – probably because the stories hit pretty close to home since my parents lived through this horrible time in Italy. Neither one of my parents, though, remembers it as being really terrible – I guess they were the lucky ones. But after reading several accounts of the atrocities that occurred in Italy, I am devastated to learn that so many innocent people lost their lives – and if they survived, they lived through some pretty horrible experiences. My parents speak about the poverty, but their stories tend to be more human interest stories rather than accounts of despair and fear. My mother tells a great story of her and her sister going to collect the rationed jam, of which each family was only allowed one jar per month. The two little girls, aged 8 & 7, were sent by their parents to go and pick it up. On the way home, they decided to sample some. One spoonful for one, another spoonful for the other, and by the time they got home, the jam was all gone! My mom says that it tasted so good that they just couldn’t stop!
Michelle Saftich’s novel, Port of No Return, speaks of life in Fiume, a town now a part of Croatia.
Back before the war, it was a part of Italy, and during the war, it was occupied by the Germans. Towards the end of the war and even afterwards, it became a hotbed of political tensions between the Yugoslav Communists (or Partisans) and those who worked for the Germans. Families were just trying to eek out a living to support themselves and therefore found work wherever there were jobs. Many of those jobs involved working on German projects.Tensions became so high that the Partisans fought everyone they felt supported the Germans. Families had to split up and flee their homes, taking refuge in refugee camps. This story tells the story of the Sartoro family – mother, father, nonna and 5 children. Ettore, the father, had worked in the naval yards run by the Germans, even though his allegiances were always to Italy. Word got out that the Yugoslav’s were coming to even the score with the Germans, and everyone involved with working for them was fair game. Ettore ran for his life, leaving behind his entire family. Months passed and the family had to escape Fiume as well. They had to leave everything they had ever known.
The story tells of the hardships that both Ettore and his family faced, and their struggle to find each other.Even after the war was over, life was still unbearable – they were living in horrendous conditions in refugee camps – but their spirit remained strong and their commitment to family was beautiful.
They were determined to create a better life, and this meant leaving the world they knew and venture to unknown lands. The end of the book finds the family embarking on a voyage to Australia and to the new life awaiting them there.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I hope that a sequel will follow that tells of their new life in Australia.