War in My Town is a departure for Ontario teacher E. Graziani. Her first book, Alice of the Rocks, was a fantasy-romance, while her latest is non-fiction: part memoir, part family narrative, and part history.
The author’s mother, Bruna, was a teenager in the northern Italian village of Eglio during the Second World War; Graziani’s book is based on Bruna’s stories of that time. The book is organized into six parts, covering the years 1940 to 1945. Each section begins with a chapter giving historical background before moving on to Bruna’s experiences.
The picture Graziani paints is of an idyllic, isolated community into which the violent consequences of Mussolini’s fascist ambitions gradually intrude. Through Bruna’s eyes, Graziani creates a strong sense of family and community, and this makes the departure of the conscripted young men and, later, the deaths of a number of villagers that much more distressing. Bruna and those around her only want to be left alone to lead normal, safe lives, although the village does have its hero in the local priest who saves a number of hostages, including Bruna’s brother Cesar, from being executed. At the climax of the book, Eglio is heavily shelled during the struggle to break the Gothic Line in 1944–45.
Bruna’s perspective as a teenage girl caught amid the hardships and horrors of war is interesting and strongly told. Occasionally, there is an awkward imbalance between relating history and describing how Bruna felt (she sometimes seems a little too aware of the bigger picture outside Eglio, given her village’s remote location). Maps and photographs add depth, but the historical information sometimes contains errors: Dachau was a concentration camp primarily used for political prisoners, not Jews; Britain was not bombed before the invasion of France in 1940; and planes cannot launch mortar rounds.
War in My Town succeeds as a testament to the strength of family and community under extraordinary circumstances, and as a tiny window into a little-known fragment of the Second World War. It’s a shame that it is weakened by factual inaccuracies.