Available in bookstores nationwide. This book has been on the NZ fiction bestsellers list since its release in early July.
It took Greg McGee thirty years to complete this book, the seed planted in the mid-1970s when he was playing rugby in the north-east of Italy, living amongst Italians, speaking the language, absorbing himself into being Italian. At that time it was only thirty years since the end of the second world war, a war which tore Italy apart – one minute Italy was an enemy, next minute it was an ally – so still very fresh in people’s minds. Many NZ soldiers fought in Italy during the war, and in the northeast where this novel is set, a number of NZers were closely involved in the partisan movement, risking their own lives, and putting the lives of the local people at huge risk, for which the consequences were deadly. Much of this has been documented and McGee acknowledges these sources which he makes rich use of in his storytelling.
And what a rich tale this is, set against such a background, telling the story of three generations, over three different time periods, in both New Zealand and in Italy. Clare is one of the narrators, in the present day, who is accompanying her father on a trip to Venice for a reunion of a rugby team he played and coached for in the 1970s. Clare has had a pretty rough time of it lately herself and the trip is supposed to give her some space from what has been going on in her life. Her father, Bruce, is also on a personal mission which Clare does not appreciate until it is too late, and on reading her father’s diary she begins to unscramble the father she never really knew.
Parallel to the Clare/Bruce thread is that of Joe Lamont and Harry Spence – two NZ POWs, on the run in the mountainous regions of the border between Yugoslavia and Italy. It goes without saying that terrible things happen. Most of the book is taken up with Joe’s story – from his early life in rural Oamaru to his big war adventure, time as a POW and subsequent escape, then the dark days after the war and its horror ended. War does terrible things to people, some thrive and survive, others almost die and still survive, and others just die. Both Harry and Joe are haunted for the rest of their days by what went on in the mountains. Things have not improved much for Bruce when he is in Italy in the 1970s. Fascism never really went away after the war, and the Red Brigade is running its own terror campaign.
Through this many layered web, the story swirls and travels, coming together at the end in a most satisfactory fashion, and not without a twist or two in the tale. I really liked this book, I was hooked from the very beginning, and snatched chances to read a few more pages any chance I could. Fortunately the chapters were fairly short so I could do this!
The only two jarring notes for me were the constant shifts in time and location, I found it distracted from the flow of the story. And the second thing, the quantum physics stuff: I know the author is trying to tell us something here, but it just seemed to be out of place with the storytelling. But this is just a small criticism – the philosophical physics information does not distract from the story in any way.
Reviewed by Felicity Murray
by Greg McGee
Published by Upstart Press