Between Enemies by Andrea Molesini

Between Enemies is a partially true story of an aristocratic family in occupied Italy during the First World war. In the original Italian it has won considerable acclaim, and a number of prizes for Italian literature. In summary, the Spada family find their estate requisitioned by the enemy when Austrian forces advance into Northern Italy in 1917. Following a cruel act of violence against a group of girls from the village, the family sets out to seek revenge.

In comparison to the many novels set in the First World War,Between Enemies is able to distinguish itself by being set in northern Italy, and by focusing on a single family in their small acts of resistance behind enemy lines. This alone is enough to make for interesting reading, with the author’s humour being an added bonus. The story story is straightforward and well told, suggesting the translators have also done a good job of rendering Andrea Molesini’s book into reasonably natural English.

This, however, [while] fine as far as it goes, leaves me with reservations about the book. The family’s various acts of resistance seem to be reduced to some minor espionage, and signalling to aircraft. Similarly, although the family naturally disagree over how safe or effective this really is, the tensions and disagreements within the family seem relatively minor.

Similarly, the family seems too ecclectic a collection of characters to be taken seriously. An aristocratic lady with a passion for mathematics must have been unusual enough in 1917, to combine this with her husband purportedly writing a novel on a typewriter named Beelzebub, while harbouring an admiration for the Buddha, stretches the bounds of probability slightly. That said, “truth is sometimes stranger than fiction”!

In summary, this is an interesting and perfectly readable novel, but one which I believe is disappointing. Ultimately the plot is perfectly straightforward, while the family is a little too eccentric, and ironically, under the circumstances, too united. The book does have its moments, and is occasionally thought provoking, but [provokingly] the Baron’s insistence that “it’s the rule of war” closes down discussion all too easily.

Nicholas Cutler
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Between Enemies by Andrea Molesini
9780857897954|Atlantic Books pbk Nov 2015

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