The Traitor’s Wife

Written by Sarah Steele
Review by Edward James

Naples was the first European city outside the Soviet Union to be liberated from the Germans in WW2.  It set the pattern for future liberations.  With the approach of the Allied armies, the citizens would rise up to ‘liberate themselves’, harassing the retreating Germans and settling scores with collaborators.  In Naples this took place over four days in September 1943.

Admittedly Naples had been occupied for only a matter of weeks, but it had been under Fascist rule during Mussolini’s dictatorship for nearly 20 years, so the anti-fascist Resistance had had a long time to organise. The Traitor’s Wife is narrated in two time-streams, one in the events of 1943 and the other in 1964, when an American film crew comes to Naples to make a film about them.  In the course of researching the subject the film-makers discover that the book which inspired them is far from the truth.

The main protagonists are Luisa, wife of the eponymous traitor and a leader of the 1943 uprising, based on an actual Neapolitan partisan, and Lola, the fictional 1960s film star who uncovers the truth. In the tradition of so many dual narratives, a woman researches the life of an earlier woman and thereby gains insight into her own situation.

The problem with such dual narratives is that one strand of the story tends to over-shadow the other. Usually it is the epic story from the more distant past which outshines the lesser dramas of the later strand.  I think this is true of this book. Lola’s problems look remarkably petty compared to Luisa’s. Finally, in a country of such shifting allegiances as wartime Italy, with two warring governments, it is surely unfair to call anybody a traitor just because they were on the wrong side of history.