Irish Times’ top books for 2012

Irish Times Books to Read 2012

Nice company to be in – AA Gill and Jean-Paul Kauffmann.

I’ve only just been able to access the Irish Times site – I’m away on holidays in Italy at present – and see that in the New Year’s Eve edition “Travels with Bertha” was included top of the travel books list in Arminta Wallace’s “best publications from the year ahead”.

Let’s just hope the reading public agrees with her kind assessment. See the full travel section of the Irish Times’ article below.


Once you’ve made it through the stack of literature that filled your stocking, get your teeth into these – ARMINTA WALLACE picks the best publications from the year ahead


If travelling around Australia in a 1975 Ford Falcon station wagon sounds good to you, Paul Martin’s account of his Travels with Bertha (Liberties Press, April) is guaranteed to have you reaching for an online visa form. AA Gill brings his usual critical eye to New York and rural Kentucky in America (Weidenfeld Nicholson, May). Tips and advice married to photos and descriptive narrative make Mary-Ann Gallagher’s Dream Journeys (Quercus, February) – 50 once-in-a-lifetime trips selected by the Scottish travel writer – a must-have for travel fans. Like many before him, Paul Strathern is in search of The Spirit of Venice (Jonathan Cape, May). Llewelyn Morgan explores Afghanistan by seeking out the history of The Buddhas of Bamiyan (Profile Books, April).

In the first-prize-for-trying category are two books about places you’d never ever want to visit, ever. In You Are Awful (But I Like You) (Jonathan Cape, February) Tim Moore checks out deep-fried, pound-shop Britain while Andrew Blackwell trots around the world’s most polluted places, from Canada’s strip mines to the Chinese city of Linfen, in Visit Sunny Chernobyl (Random House Books, June). A country that no longer exists is the subject of Jean-Paul Kauffmann’s Courland (Quercus, April). Once the buffer between the Germanic and Slav worlds, it’s now part of Latvia – a place of wide skies, deserted beaches, stately homes and ex-KGB prisons.”

Book Description

Cover jpeg

Bruno, Babí and, Bruno’s father, Oronzo, at the port of Ancona, September 1938

Can the enigma of Italy ever be understood, especially by a foreigner? 

How can the complex war experiences of even a single Italian family ever be told?

On the birth of his eldest child in a medieval hillside town in central Italy in 2007, Irishman Paul Martin first heard a troubling two lines about his Italian family.

His wife’s grandfather, Bruno, had been denied his war pension because it was suspected he had sided with Mussolini’s extremist Salò Republic after the 1943 Armistice. How could more be learnt if Bruno had been killed in 1956 and his wife, Babi, would never discuss the war up to her death in 2015 aged almost 100?

Was this suspicion linked to Bruno’s remarkable, though undocumented, journey home on a stolen bicycle after liberation from a German prison in 1945? Or had it something to do with Babi’s origins in Alto Adige, the German-speaking region in Northern Italy? And why had Bruno’s father, Oronzo, attempted suicide immediately after the war?

In the decade after 2008, as Europe faced into the seething consequences of the global crash, Paul would unravel this complex family – and unexpectedly national – story.

In conversations with remaining members of the war generation, this tale would wind through the former Austro-Hungarian empire, to a Jewish internment camp in the Marche, to Italy’s disastrous Albanian campaign, to vile wars in Russia and the Balkans, to a prison in East Prussia and a forced labour factory near Leipzig, to an impoverished and troubled post-war Ancona before arriving at its conclusion in today’s Italy.

Faced with the unrelenting question of “what is the truth of history?”, this intriguing story ultimately uncovers some of the buried past and deep humanity of Italy’s extraordinary people. But above all it reveals the character of one Italian family and how – rather than Bruno’s suspected Fascist sympathies – something far more nuanced and painful lay behind Babi’s decades-long, dignified silence.