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First Words: A Childhood in Fascist Italy Hardcover – August 9, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

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
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition edition (August 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805062580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805062588
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,956,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer N. Zambernard on August 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I could not disagree more with the previous "book critic". This book is not a lambasting of individual Catholics or of the many individual priests that helped to save many Jews. One need only look at Ms. Loy's characterization of Pope Pius XI and his very anti-semetic stance to see that this book in no way sees all Catholics as heartless beasts. What it does show is that with the on-slot of Pope Pius XII's reign, the organized Catholic body-politic did nothing privately or publicly to condemn the atrocities committed against Jews at home or abroad in Nazi Germany. There were over 1200 Jews in Rome alone that could have been "hidden" in the Vatican...but no, the response to that was that Pope Pius XII could have been arrested. Getting arrested seems very tame to Jesus being crucified, does it not? All I can say is that, along with the reading of this very touching book by Ms. Loy, I would also recommend everyone out there supplimenting the reading of this book with Mr. Cornwell's "Hitler's Pope".
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By britneyxyz on January 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
Rosetta Loy opens this book with her first memories of childhood as a young girl in Rome in the early 30s. She then paints the picture from that time to 1943.
This book actually tells two stories - first the account of Rosetta's life during that period of time and second the historical facts of the time.
The entire book impressed me, but two things about this book absolutely AMAZED me.
1. Roessetta Loy's voice. On the first page she is a young girl tended by a nanny, the reader is treated with the perspective of life at this point in time from the unusual view of a curious and intelligent child. As the book progresses and Rossetta ages the story changes in vocabulary and scope.
2. Ms. Loy presents the key points of political and legal changes in her church, city and country with simply clarity. This is the first book that I have read on the subject that didn't attempt go overboard on explanations, excuses or "what ifs". Ms. Loy states the facts of legal changes and racial politics of Italy at the time without attempting to question `how', `why', `to what end' and `what if'. Instead the reader will hear these questions echo in their own mind.
This is a powerful book. It is written in simple style and easy to read. It could be read in a day or two, but if you are like me when you get to the end you will want to read it again.
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By Amanda on July 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
What a lot of nonsense has been written about Pope Pius XII and his role in saving or not saving Rome's Jews. Loy's book is a sad and lovely memoir written by an eyewitness to the changes brought about by the arrival of Fascism in Italy, but it is not a piece of scholarly research and shouldn't be used to destroy the reputation of a man reported to have saved at least 700,000 Jews. Who makes this claim? Jewish historian and Israeli government official Pinchas Lapide in his 1967 book, Three Popes and the Jews. For a credible study of the topic, written by an American rabbi and based on documented research, read The Myth of Hitler's Pope by Rabbi David Dalin, or Pave the Way Foundation's Examining the Papacy of Pius XII, also written by an American Jew.
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By S.J.Tagliareni on March 14, 2012
Format: Paperback
I do not think this is a Catholic bashing book but there are strong arguments on both sides .The book has value in that the situation is seen through the eyes of a child. To define Pius Xll is not a simple matter and on both sides of the fence there are telling facts.

S.J.Tagliareni author of Hitler's Priest
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