In my three recent launch events in Italy and Ireland, audiences showed great interest in one of The Bicycle Thief and the German Wife‘s central threads. This was Babí’s homeland of the SudTirol which became incorporated into Italy when Babí was aged 3 following WWI. The infamous option and the impact on Babi’s own family – including one brother-in-law who ended up with the German army in Stalingrad – are aspects that have generally been wiped out of Italian history.
The two books (available in English) providing good overviews of these times are:
- The South Tyrol Question, 1866-2010: from national rage to regional state by Georg Grote (who upto recently taught in UCD)
- South Tyrol: A minority conflict of the twentieth century by Rolf Steininger
Three other books (available only in Italian and German as far as I’m aware) which provide diverse perspectives are:
- Ereditá: una storia della mia famiglia tra l’impero e il fascismo by Lilli Gruber, a well known Italian journalist which recounts the story of her own German-speaking family in the region
- Eva Dorme by Francesca Melandri which although a (very readable and successful) novel really gives a great sense of the historical background and in some ways could reflect parts of Babi’s own life
- Dimenticare Mai by Franz Thaler which recalls the personal experience of a German-speaker whose family rejected the option, refusing to leave their native land to move to the Reich in 1940. Thaler came out of hiding from the Germans when his parents and siblings were threatened with imprisonment in the local Bolzano concentration camp. This brought Thaler to Dachau where only due to his youthful strength did he survive upto liberation. “Dimenticare Mai” means “never forget”.