The German armed forces were guilty of countless war crimes in Italy during the Second World War. While the casual observer is familiar with the mass shootings of civilians, the deportation and eventual murder of Italian Jews, and the mistreatment of Allied prisoners of war, most remain unaware of the willful and brutal destruction of the port city of Naples. Naples was an important city to both sides owing to its location and its large and relatively modern harbor facilities. As the Germans retreated before the Allied advance, Berlin ordered the total destruction of the city. Thousands of Neapolitans were either driven off or shot by German soldiers and police. A fairly small number of Italian teenagers and small children remained in the city and, to the surprise of the German troops, defended what was left of their native city against the pitiless invaders. It is one of the most arresting stories of World War II.
Lorenzo Carcaterra grew up listening to family members speak of the heroism of these now forgotten children and wrote this novel as a testament to their sacrifice. The description of Naples and the characterization of the German and American soldiers are well constructed and illustrate the author’s talents and skills as a novelist. The portraits of the children and their motivation are not as successfully drawn. While this detracts from the impact of the book as a novel, the saga of these children provides the reader with as dramatic a story as it is possible to imagine.