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Army of the Lost Rivers Paperback – September 29, 2008

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the midst of senzapatria (a state of rootless disenfranchisement), the characters of Sgorlon's bleak and brilliant novel know only the "dark Babylon of war." In the final hours of WWII the Nazis "give" Friuli, a region of Italy bordering on Austria, to the Cossack bands who have collaborated with them on the Eastern Front against the Soviet forces. Marta is the Friulian housekeeper for a Russian Jewish refugee named Esther. When Esther is deported by the Germans, Marta keeps the villa, sheltering a partisan soldier, Ivos, and refusing to accept Esther's death. As the expatriated Cossacks arrive in 1944 "like a plague of grasshoppers," the commander of the local Cossack division, Gavrila, quarters himself in Marta's villa. Entanglements, romantic and otherwise, occur. The truce established by Urvan, another commander and Marta's lover, with the Friuli villagers is broken when some Cossacks rape and kill a peasant beauty. As the atrocities multiply, it becomes clear that Cossack culture cannot long survive in the Friuli valleys. Sgorlon's (The Wooden Throne) sympathy, like his point of view, is divided evenly between the terrorized (and emotionally torn) indigenous people and the bewildered, aggressive Cossack refugees. Neo-realism may at times sit uneasily with a sort of swollen romanticismAUrvan's Slavic soul is "vast" and Marta is the eternal feminine principleAbut these moments are quite easy to ignore in this grave and intelligent novel. (Apr.) FYI: Army of the Lost Rivers won the Premio Strega when it was published in Italy in 1985.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Italian
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Italica Press (September 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0934977623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0934977623
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,365,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Carlo Sgorlon won high praise for this work in Italian. While I have no doubt Jessie Bright's English translation is a good one I'm afraid that the narrative is a little turgid by the standards of good English writing.

Nonetheless, for a student of this particular episode in Italian/Cossack history this is an essential book. What Sgorlon has done is to take a "human interest" angle to examine the invasion of Friuli by the Cossack nation that lasted from August 1944 until May 1945. His gift to us is an insight into the Cossack side of the story. He shows us with some sympathy a people that had been tricked by the Germans, lost their homeland to the Soviets, who were being bombed by the Allies and shot at by the partisans. He shows their burning but frustrated desire to fight the Soviets (their only reason for aligning themselves with the Germans who they despised) and to regain their homeland, their "lost rivers". He also touches on their shameful handing over to the Soviets by the Allies after the war and hints at their eventual fate.

Perhaps inevitably his ending concentrates on what happens to the main characters. This means he doesn't follow the fate of the Cossacks after the Allies hand them over to the Soviets, because none of his characters make that far.

But the book is stylishly written and apparently well translated. I'm sure that its literary style is more suited to Italian readeship in its original form rather than English.
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Wonderful history of a small part of the Cossack culture.
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