Sunday 24 February 2019

A Chill in the Air

Finished February 12
A Chill in the Air: An Italian War Diary, 1939-1940 by Iris Origo

This diary was a fascinating look into the experience of being in a country at a very uncertain time. Iris Origo was the daughter of a British mother and an American father. Her father died when she was a young child, and left instructions that she not be raised in either of her parent's home countries, but somewhere else, where she could be free of nationalistic feeling. He suggested Italy, His widow, Iris's mother Sybil followed his advice. She rented, then bought a villa in the hills above Florence and raised Iris there. Iris was a debutante three times, in Florence, London, and New York, but she fell in love with an Italian, Antonio Origo. Together, they defied both their families' plans for them and bought an estate in southern Tuscany that was in very bad shape. The estate included twenty-five farms. The young couple were determined to return the land to fertility and its inhabitants to prosperity. Following the death of her young son Gianni in 1933, she spent some time away, mostly in England, but was back home at the estate by the time that war rumours were beginning.
Iris's godfather was William Phillips, the American Ambassador in Rome, and she had a multitude of other highly placed connections, both socially and politically. She had befriended Virginia Wolff during her time in London, and both she and Antonio were well-liked among the local people.
This diary is about her feelings and reactions to what is going on politically and was meant for her eyes alone, as she sorted through what was happening around her. It doesn't include her private life at all. She kept another diary later in the war covering the years 1943-1944 and it was published in 1947, showing the actions of many of the Italian people during this time, and doing much good for the country's reputation following the war.
I was fascinated by this book, and really got a sense of what was happening, from the feelings of the people for Mussolini, the propaganda that was distributed, and the uncertainty for the future.

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