The Good Italian

Written by Stephen Burke
Review by Ann Northfield

Set in Eritrea in 1935, this novel is a riveting examination of colonialism, war, love, the power of conscience and race. It is hard to believe that this is the first book from this talented author, and it deserves a wide readership. At first, the main character Enzo Secchi, an Italian harbourmaster, is somewhat repellent as he takes advantage of his new Eritrean housekeeper and makes it clear to her that sex with him is part of the job. After all, everyone is doing it; this is one of the fringe benefits of owning a colony. Later however, the reader’s view is softened as the couple fall in love and Enzo slowly becomes involved in Aatifa’s life and family.

The political situation is volatile; Mussolini has decided that Ethiopia would be a valuable addition to his colonial empire, and all the war material, such as soldiers and weapons, are being channelled through Eritrea and through Enzo’s harbour in particular. This raises more moral dilemmas and issues for Enzo, who faces different challenges of conscience. This all serves to help make him a complex and real character and very compelling. I did not think I would care so much about him by the end of the book.

I highly recommend this powerful and thoughtful novel, and I am very much looking forward to more novels by this author.