Una Tragedia Italiana is a compelling account that sits you down next to your Italian granfather by the fireplace even if you never had one as he takes his time telling you about Italian battleships, life on the Mediterranean, and the joy of life while packing his pipe as he offers you a glass of wine. Andrea Amici has prepared this great read most extensively by delving into the details of the RN Roma and making the flagship of the WW2 Italian Navy come alive as the stage for a moving, beautiful story of friendship to be cherished by all. Not only will history or battleship buffs be enthralled with the detailed description of the working of the on board systems, seemingly compartment by compartment, but just about anyone will be drawn in by the story of friends who overcome adversity working together in those spaces only to escape into coping with a prolonged ordeal through friendship and love.
Much like Titanic or Das Boot have done in decades before, Andrea Amici has drawn a broad audience by using the technical and military leviathan of the RN Roma as the backdrop for the moving story of his grandfather Italo to tell a beautiful tale. While detailed enough for the aficionados, the naval terminology is easy to understand but takes a back seat to the compelling storyline of the author’s grandfather Italo as evidenced by women buyers and readers outnumbering men in Italy where the book was published over ten years ago. The device that makes Andrea’s story so attractive is the first person account as his grandfather Italo Pizzo who survived the sinking and eventual internment in Spain. There are all sorts of descriptions of the turrets, machinery spaces, steam and electrical appliances on board for the most grognard reader looking for that sort of thing in an extremely comprehensive but easy to read way, yet the story is so powerful and straightforward that one could not even notice not being familiar with those things as the reader start to laugh out loud, then cry with Italo as you witness, often feel first hand the challenges, emotions and beauty he sees.
This stark, and above all sincere tone needs no explanation, for the occasional nautical or technical term the glossaries are an extravaganza of their own but the reader will easily be teleported into the story as if they were one of the main characters standing next to Italo. Notable is the reader will share the physical sensations like any human being would down to cold or warmth, shivering, hunger or the satisfaction of taking in a feast experienced by the characters at that moment in the story, as well as feeling their hopes and dreams in your heart as you read along. Despite the story’s stark, open tone that is easy to decipher, there are no abrupt or terse descriptions. Most paragraphs flow quite well introducing each idea or experience very gradually so as to pique the reader’s mind with direct foreshadowing while slowly but directly creating what feels like a very picturesque, exact image or experience. As with many historical narrative nonfiction stories that are well done, you know how it will end, who wins, who loses, what ship gets sunk and who dies or lives but the author’s job is getting you there in style and making revelations to you between point A the beginning and point B the end that are already known with quality narration and accurate research. There is a nicely thick plot with climax and resolution, but the changes in tension done by Andrea that displays himself as a master storyteller in such a fashion are quite unpredictable so the reader is always left to guess with little carrots, or should I say pizza, pasta, then later tortilla and malaga of foreshadowing dangled as mind candy. In short, Una Tragedia Italiana is a pageturner, even more so after the war scenes are over and it becomes time to start surviving in a strange land, then getting back home.
Alberto Rinaldo Savoretti