Reviewed by Gretchen Winters
Pamela Hart has written a very engaging love story, loosely based on Louise Mack, an Australian, and one of the few women correspondents to report from the frontline during WW1.
The author has described the privations and danger of wartime conditions in WW1 very convincingly. Pamela Hart is an award-winning author and has written historical novels previously and a previous novel, The Black Dress won the NSW Premier’s History Prize for 2006.
A Letter from Italy is set in the Adriatic coastal town of Brindisi in southern Italy. Rebecca Quinn is a newly married Australian who leaves Sydney to follow her husband Jack. Jack is a frontline war correspondent and Rebecca is a writer and journalist who speaks French. She also believes her ‘ear for foreign languages’ would be of great assistance to Jack. She strongly believes they can work well together. Soon after her arrival she is shocked to be abruptly left to fend for herself after Jack decides to move closer to the action in northern Italy. Left to her own resources Rebecca makes the decision to stay on and write from her own perspective of the effects of war in southern Italy. Brindisi is a major port for Italian and allied defence shipping and is a base for many Australian and European journalists – all of them male.
Rebecca meets a handsome Italian/American, Sandro, who is a photographer in New York. He has come back to live with his Nonna who runs a trattoria but has other issues he needs to deal with by exploring his Italian heritage. After initial misunderstandings, Sandro and Rebecca decide to form a business partnership; he as a photo journalist, and Rebecca as the writer. Rebecca is an unconventional woman who does not appear to show fear in the all-male press environment and displays composure as she fights for the right to be treated as a professional competing for ‘scoops’ about the war activities unfolding north of Brindisi.
She also comes to gradually admire Sandro’s qualities and reliability.
Faced with the centuries old Italian traditions where men rule every aspect of life she invites the wrath of the locals by speaking freely about women’s rights, especially women’s right to vote and to make independent decisions. Nonna, who runs the trattoria where the seamen and journalists usually meet is also fiercely independent and becomes an ally in assisting Rebecca and Sandro in their journalistic enterprises.
Other factors come into play through sub-plots concerning journalists’ ethics, fishing boats, possible spies and betrayal amid the developing involvement of Rebecca and Sandro in a story much bigger than they had foreseen at the beginning of their collaboration.
Highly recommended for readers who enjoy wartime history coupled with romance, adventure and the uncertainties of life lived against the ever-present reality that for some people the perilous conditions of war might mean there may not be tomorrow.
By Pamela Hart