His Most Italian City
Trieste is the city in question, but the smaller Adriatic city of Cittanova also figures prominently in this 1928-set historical novel. Mussolini wants to make Italy great again after the winning sides have carved up the former Austro-Hungarian Empire following World War I. Matteo Brazzi, Cittanova’s new mayor and cafe owner, only cares about himself. If it means promoting Fascism and “correcting” the multi-cultural society into seeing themselves as Italian, then why not? But once the town’s favorite son, Giovanni, is abducted aboard a renegade submarine, Matteo realizes he’s up against an old rival in the sub’s captain. The town bonds to solve the disappearance.
Florid and darkly comic, His Most Italian City bristles with life. Although the main events take place over a day, the past comes alive with eight years of back narratives featuring doomed love affairs, treachery, vivid family life, political and cultural philosophies and clever children. The captain’s beautiful wife Nataša is pivotal to the back-winding plot. The beating hearts of both cities and the submarine add much to a story reminiscent of the best of Joseph Heller and T. C. Boyle, with the added bonus of wonderful characterizations of women and girls. What an impressive debut! I look forward to more from Margaret Walker.