I’m Staying Here

Written by Marco Balzano
Review by Linda Harris Sittig

This fascinating story set in northern Italy, on the Austrian border, begins in 1923 and ends in 1950. It’s told in first-person narrative as the protagonist writes her daughter a letter telling her of past events. The mother begins the story with her own coming of age that coincides with Mussolini’s rise in power. As his fascist soldiers arrive in her village and take over, she laments the loss of innocence and worries about the future.

Marriage and children eventually ensue, but not before an unspeakable tragedy to her best friend and a second more horrifying ordeal concerning her own daughter. The war drags on for years, and after Mussolini’s soldiers leave, the Germans arrive. At first, the villagers are given the choice to leave Italy for German relocation, but the mother vows to stay—no matter what.

Balzano uses primary sourced interviews to pull together the historical details needed to bring the village to life. He tells the horrors of occupation and war culminating in the singular event of the damming of the lake that will destroy the village. The plot is well-paced and woven with an ever-present ugly premonition. This is a superb telling of a historical event that few people are acquainted with, written in lyrical prose that makes the characters real. The book is thoughtfully accompanied by a map of the Tyrol so that readers can place themselves on location, and the intricacies of the storyline spur the reader to turn each page. Highly recommended.