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Fiction - Novels - Ciao Biondina
Ciao Biondina
by Giulio Zambon

ISBN: TBD
Publisher: TBD.
Publication date: In 2012. Pages: 350-400.

List price: TBD
Not yet available.

"Ciao Biondina" is the title of a very successful Italian song of the late 1930s. The title translates into something like "Good bye my little blond baby".
The beginning of the song says:
  Goodbye my blond baby,
  we will see each other again.
  One day
  we will meet.
  From afar,
  when I will be
  alone with my heart,
  I will think of you.
  I will dream
  to kiss once more
  your golden braid.

As you can imagine, it resonated with many young Italian men who got caught in the Fascist war to conquer Ethiopia in 1935/36 and then in WWII, which Italy entered in 1940.

The novel tells the story of of a man and a woman, Costantino and Mimma, who grow up in Fascist Italy.
When their lives cross, they desperately fall in love with each other. But he is a sailor posted in Ethiopia, and when he comes back from Africa, Italy is preparing for WWII.

Costantino and Mimma long for each other, but the Second World War and the Italian civil war that follows keep them apart. Their struggle exemplifies the lives of many Italians abused by Mussolini's megalomania and triumphalism.

This is a work of fiction, but the events that unfold in the background are real. In it, I try to capture the hopes and the fears of the Italians during what has become known as the deprecated twenty years.

History

During the second half of 2010, I joined a group of writers who meet every fortnight to talk about writerly issues. There I met Peter Hadley, who was completing an historical novel about Australians during WWI (Return to Rabaul). Reading it inspired me to write a novel based on my parents' lives during Fascism. My father was a sailor with the Royal Italian Navy and, in the course of WWII, was sunk four times. For his actions during the war, he was decorated five times for valour.

Unfortunately, neither one of my parents is still alive to help me with some of the details, but this is, after all, a work of fiction.

For me, the challenge in writing this novel is in maintaining the momentum for one hundred and twenty thousand words of fiction. But it is a story that should be told, and nobody else can do it. Thinking about it, I am amazed at how reality sometimes surpasses the most fervid imagination.

Researching for this novel has not been (and is not) easy, because, despite the amount of information available on the Web, it is at times difficult to reach the best sources without being in Italy.

Anyhow, to whet you appetite, I have added an excerpt of a what I have already written. The protagonist, Costantino Pezzan, and his mate and friend, Perelli, are in Ethiopia, and visit the quarter of Gondar where the locals live. The time is August 1936, XIV year of the Fascist Era and one year after Ethiopia was occupied by the Italians.

It took ten days before he and Perelli could explore the old town. Although by the time of the Italians' arrival the city had been reduced to a shadow of its past glories, many palaces still remained standing. The Ethiopian Emperor Fasilides, who in the seventeenth century had transformed Gondar from an agglomeration of tents and huts into his imperial capital, had left behind imposing buildings, including a castle and a bath.

Pezzan admired the buildings, but took no pictures. "You know what?" He told his mate resting his left hand on the holster of his gun, a habit he had rapidly assumed. "We should walk in the part of town where the natives currently live."

Perelli thought that it might be a bit dangerous. After all, they were the invaders. But he was certainly not going to show any caution that could be misinterpreted as cowardice.

The typical native hut consisted of a circular wall made of compacted mud surmounted by a conical roof of straw and reeds. The straw used to improve the consistency of the mud stuck out of the walls, giving to them at times a hairy appearance. Sometimes they caught a glimpse of women wrapped in simple loincloths, but the natives seemed to be very shy, and hid as quickly as possible in the darkness of their huts. The adult natives, that is, because a growing band of naked children grew behind the two sailors as they walked deeper into the quarter. No man was in sight. Perhaps they were away hunting or working in the fields.

Pezzan turned towards the children and opened the bellow of his camera. The kids laughed and came closer, with their eyes showing the white around the dark irises, as if by doing so they would better capture everything they were seeing. Pezzan took a couple of pictures and then gestured to one of the smaller children to come to him. The boy initially held back, but then took courage and walked to Pezzan, who had crouched to have his eyes level with those of the child.

Perelli said "I've heard that local fleas are as big as small cockroaches."

Pezzan ignored his mate's comment and fished from one of his pockets a half-eaten chocolate, unwrapped it, took a small bite from it, and offered it to the child. "Look at their swollen bellies. And yet they are so thin. I think they don't have enough to eat."

The boy, in a single gesture, snatched the piece of chocolate from Pezzan's hand and put it into his mouth. He didn't say anything, but the expression that appeared on his face was worth thousands of words. "I wish I could remember the first time I tasted chocolate," said Pezzan. "Perelli, please take a picture of the two of us." He then stood up and took the hand of the boy, who didn't protest. With a piece of chocolate, this big white man had conquered his heart.

I wrote the first 46 kWords between 2010-09-25 and 2010-11-25, and then set it aside to work on puzzle programming and write the book on Sudoku. I've still a long way to go, and a lot of distractions, but this is a project I will complete.

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