This is a 2017 book by bestselling author and biographer Caroline Moorehead about the heroic activities in the pre-war years of an Italian family that I confess I had never heard of despite having lived in Italy for almost eight years and being married to a Florentine. It’s a gripping story that reads like a novel but the fact that it is all true makes it even more compelling and the story’s relevance today remains undiminished. It’s well-researched and well-written with a real feel for Italy and its history, derived no doubt from the fact that the author moved to Italy with her parents at the age of eleven and grew up here.
I’ll quote the back cover of the book in its entirety because it’s an excellent summary of the events covered and does not require rewriting:
“Members of the cosmopolitan, cultural aristocracy of Florence at the beginning of the 20th century, the Rosselli family - led by their fierce matriarch Amelia - were vocal antifascists. As populist right-wing nationalism swept across Europe after World War I and Italy’s prime minister, Benito Mussolini, began consolidating his power, Amelia’s sons Carlo and Nello led the opposition, taking a public stand against Il Duce that few others in their elite class dared risk. When Mussolini established a terrifying and brutal police state controlled by his Blackshirts - the squadristi - the Rossellis and their antifascist circle were transformed into active resisters.
Renowned historian Caroline Moorehead paints an indelible picture of Italy in the first half of the 20th century, offering an intimate account of the rise of Il Duce and his squadristi, life in Mussolini’s penal colonies, the shocking ambivalence and complicity of many prominent Italian families seduced by Mussolini’s promises and the bold, fractured resistance movement whose associates sacrificed their lives to fight fascism.”
Caroline Moorehead has written several biographies and in 2011 began what she calls “the resistance series”, a projected trilogy in which individual lives would illuminate the struggle against fascism before and during the Second World War. The first two books were about France, this is her third and she now has a fourth in the works.
She came across the post-war memoirs of Amelia Rosselli in the British Library and was able to trace Nello’s two daughters who not only spoke at length to the author but also granted her access to an immense archive of the family’s personal papers and letters. The author also consulted the Italian national archives in Rome where she found voluminous reports on the Rossellis and their friends compiled by Mussolini’s network of spies in Europe during this period.
The result of all of this work is a 375 page book which is a thoroughly good read and I highly recommend it to anyone who still cherishes books as a form of entertainment and enlightenment. But don't google the subject matter first; I resisted that temptation and enjoyed the book all the more as a result.