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Paperback Published: 27 July 2017

 

Description:

Francesco has a memory of his father from early childhood, a night when life for his family changed: their name, their story, their living place. From that night, he has vowed to protect his mother and to follow the words of his father: Non mollare. Never give up.

When Francesco is rounded up with a group of young men and herded into a camp on the island of San Domino, he realises that someone has handed a list of names to the fascist police; everyone is suspicious of one another. His former lover Emilio is constantly agitating for revolution. His old friend Gio jealously watches their relationship rekindle. Locked in spartan dormitories, resentment and bitterness between the men grows each day.

Elena, a young and illiterate island girl on the cusp of womanhood, is drawn to the handsome Francesco yet fails to understand why her family try to keep her away from him. By day, she makes and floats her paper birds, willing them to fly from the island, just as she wants to herself. Sometimes, she is given a message to pass on. She’s not sure who they are from; she knows simply that Francesco is hiding something. When Elena discovers the truth about the group of prisoners, the fine line between love and hate pulls her towards an act that can only have terrible consequences for all.

My Thoughts & Review:

Mussolini’s Island was a book that I was first aware of via a review from another blogger, Mairead over at Swirl and Thread wrote an exceptionally powerful review that grabbed my attention and had me desperate to read this book for myself.

Set against the backdrop of Fascist Italy, Sarah Day takes her readers deep into the heart of part of history that many know little about, the drive to rid Sicily of  degenerates, deviants and those who would cast a shadow on the great Italian name.  Benito Mussolini, leader of the National Fascist Party founded Italian Fascism, and Prime Minister between 1922-1943, made it practically impossible for homosexuality to exist in his ideal of a fascist Italy.  And so, the confinement of gay and bisexual men was was enforced on the outlying islands of the country.  Here we follow one group who were sent to San Domino.

Our protagonist, Francesco touches the hearts of readers as he recounts early memories of his father and life before Sicily.  Soon we learn that he and his mother fled their home in Naples to being afresh in Catania, with new names and a new history.  For Francesco, hiding his true identity comes as second nature, and when he begins to question his sexuality this is yet another secret he keeps close to his heart.  He some drifts towards the local arrusi, young men and boys meeting up in the shelter of darkened alleyways, dancehalls etc to spend time with their lovers for a few short moments of illicit freedom.

The expulsion of the arrusi to the island of San Domino leaves the men stripped of their identities, no longer are they village mechanics, waiters, fathers, friends, but merely an insult to the Italian people.  They are viewed as a contamination that needs to be contained.  The people of San Domino do not want them on their island, but in times of hardship a job is a job, and so if they are to be paid to guard these prisoners then they will do it.

Throughout the book, Francesco remembers vividly the quote his father repeated to him Non Mollare – Never Give Up and that’s exactly what he tries to do.  Regardless of the difficult situation he finds himself in, Francesco looks up, holds his head high and carries on.  He feels strongly that despite having let those around him down, he will do whatever he can to protect his loved ones. 

Sarah Day has written an exceptionally wonderful novel, so full of emotion and detail.  The historical information woven into the tale is fascinating yet at the same time utterly heartbreaking.  I found at several points I wanted to scream out at the injustice of what was happening, the way that the writing brings the story to life is so moving and yet it is handled with such care and devotion.  I cannot say that this was an aspect of history that I knew about, but it’s sparked my need to find out more and I thank Sarah for this.  Not only is this a beautiful book that I will cherish, it’s also made me think about society and what we are willing to tolerate.

You can buy a copy of Mussolini’s Island via:

Amazon
Wordery
Book Depository

My thanks to Millie Seaward at Headline Publishing Group for the opportunity to read this exceptional book and take part in the blog tour.

 

 

 

 

 

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