In this understated yet scathing memoir, novelist Rosetta Loy intersperses scenes from her affluent childhood with a broader portrait of anti-Semitism in fascist Italy. The otherwise effective translation has softened Loy's original title (in Italian, "The Word Jew") but not her blistering depiction of the Church's complicity in Mussolini's persecution of Jews. Pope Pius XI, an outspoken opponent of state anti-Semitism, died in early 1939. His successor, Eugenio Pacelli, had been a papal nuncio in Germany for 12 years, where he signed the 1933 concordat that urged German Catholics to obey the Nazis (events analyzed at length in John Cornwell's excellent 1999 biography, Hitler's Pope
). As Pius XII, Pacelli said little and did nothing to prevent racist genocide. Born in 1931, Loy was just a girl during this dreadful period, but she does not excuse herself or her family for going about their daily lives while their Jewish neighbors were subjected to increasingly restrictive laws and then, in late 1943, transported to the German death camps. The author also relates stirring acts of moral heroism--Catholic priests who denounced anti-Semitism as un-Christian, individuals who sheltered Jews--but her quietly uncompromising book suggests that her parents, good people who found fascism personally distasteful but felt helpless to defy it, were more typical. --Wendy Smith
From Library Journal
How did the Italians treat their Jewish population during the Fascist period? Loy, one of Italy's best-known writers, offers the perspective of a young schoolgirl from a well-to-do Catholic family between 1936 and 1943. The author contrasts her warm memories of schooldays, playmates, and family with the increasingly restrictive laws against Jews, the menacing Italian Blackshirts, and the failure of the Vatican to take a firm position against Jewish persecution. The true value of this work lies not in the charming memoir but in the brief chronology of the action and non-reactions of the Italian people and the Catholic Church. Loy also details pertinent events outside Italy for comparison. Though this is an enlightening work, it would have benefited greatly from an index and bibliography. For more detailed looks at this controversial topic, see John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (LJ 5/15/99), Pierre Blet's Pius XII and the Second World War: According to the Archives of the Vatican (Paulist, 1999), or Margherita Marchione's Pope Pius XII: Architect for Peace (Paulist, 2000). Recommended for larger public libraries.DMaria C. Bagshaw, Lake Erie Coll., Painesville, OH
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