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10 November 2017 | comments: 0 | Categories: | Tags:

Lunch with Mussolini

4 starsLunch with Mussolini by Derek Hansen is a fascinating book that's full of suspense and intrigue.

Hansen is an Australian author, who according to his blurb, left the advertising industry to "fulfil a lifelong ambition" to write novels.

Putting aside my suspicion of advertising people, and resisting the temptation to say they are all experts in fiction, I'm happy to praise Hansen for this outstanding work.

Lunch with MussoliniLunch with Mussolini is the second in a series following Lunch with the Generals.

The premise is that five friends meet weekly in a Sydney restaurant to swap yarns. A story may last for several weeks, as this one by the narrator Lucio does.

Set in wartime Italy the story's main characters are a young Italian girl, Cecilia, and a German officer Friedrich.

Hansen has thoroughly researched the history and politics of the era, giving what appears to be an accurate account of Italy's flirtation with fascism. If Mussolini had held back from supporting Germany in the Second World War he might well have stayed in power as Franco did in Spain.

Most Italians weren't very enthusiastic about the war, and it's well documented that Italians weren't very good soldiers, struggling even to defeat Ethiopia.

So when thousands of Italians were captured or killed it followed that the anti-fascist Partisans grew in strength and numbers. This is the backdrop to Hansen's story.

Cecilia works for a fascist Count and befriends the local German commandant, a decent man who suffers personal anguish when his family is killed in the Allied bombing of Dresden.

Cecilia falls in love with Friedrich, but continues to feed information to the Partisans about German tactics. The local community, unaware of her double life, considers her a traitor and stones her nearly to death when she's falsely accused of betraying the Partisans and aiding a German military success.

Friedrich, already gutted by the loss of his wife and son, sinks deeper into a mire of despair when he incorrectly believes that Cecilia has been killed. He rounds up some local women and orders their shooting in reprisal. Among those killed is Cecilia's mother.

Fast forward 50 years to Sydney and an unexpected reunion between Cecilia and Friedrich, both now living under assumed names, trying to escape their past.

Cecilia ponders taking revenge on Friedrich for the death of her mother, not knowing his motive for the crime of passion. Their paths separated after the incident and war's end.

Lucio brings his listeners into the narrative as active players in the final outcome. It's revealed that Cecilia is his mother-in-law and she hasn't yet decided Friedrich's fate.

Should she kill him or forgive him? The listeners are asked to cast their verdict.

The writing moves along at a rapid pace and the attention to historical detail is appropriate without distracting.

I enjoyed this book and now plan to read others in the series.

  • Note: This article was originally published in November 2003.
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