I’ve just finished an amazing book. Normally I’m not a great one for travel books, but this is very different. It’s by Eric Newby (he of ‘a short walk in the Hindu Kush’ fame) and chronicles his experiences as an escaped prisoner of war in Northern Italy during WW2.
When he goes on the run amongst the forests and mountains of the Apennines, he is sheltered and helped by Italian villagers, farmers and mountain people in the most extraordinary way. They help him, feed him, hide him, nurse him back to health; and every time the Germans are likely to catch up with him, they simply move him somewhere even more remote.
At one stage the men of the village, realising that the Germans know he is being hidden with them, build him a tiny hut in a corner of the mountain rock where it is completely camouflaged.
These people are always very poor, incredibly hard-working, and the only reason they have for helping him, at the risk of their own lives, is that their own sons are fighting in Russia, and they hope that Russian villagers would be as kind to them as they are to Newby.
Eric goes from one narrow escape to the next, with humour and insight. He manages to fall in love, and there are some very close shaves which are also hilarious – such as the time he falls asleep in the forest, and wakes to find a German officer standing over him. The officer turns out to be off duty, is a keen butterfly-collecter – complete with net – and says that he doesn’t like being hated by the local population, so if Eric will agree to say nothing about meeting him, he in turn will say nothing about Eric. You couldn’t make it up … hopefully!
When our media are full of miserable news and the worst of human nature, day after day, it is a book to lift one’s spirits and to realise that kindness and courage are found in the most unlikely places.
‘Love and War in the Apennines’ by Eric Newby.
(image from http://2ndcupoftea.com/2012/05/16/lost-and-words-in-the-appenines-italy/ )