I’ve tasked Siobhan Saiko with a post about the inspiration for writing her new book, The Girl from Bologna. Welcome to the blog.
Thank you for inviting me to write a guest post for your blog about what gave me the inspiration to write “The Girl from Bologna”. It’s a standalone story and part of my “Girls from the Italian Resistance” series. The liberation of Bologna is mentioned, but not fully explored in the two other books, “The Girl from Venice” and “The Girl from Portofino”. It seemed opportune to conclude the series there.
When I visited the city recently with my husband and viewed the monument to the partisans in Piazza del Nettuno, I found the photos of the young men and women who had given their lives for the freedom of the city to be deeply moving. The memorial truly is the inspiration behind the novel. I could only photograph a small section of the ceramic images placed behind glass (there are over two thousand) but seeing the faces of those who’d died brought home to me the tragic loss of life.
Section of the monument to the partisans in Piazza del Nettuno, Bologna, showing the number of partisans to be 14,425 of whom 2,212 were women. 2059 fallen. 945 wounded. 6543 arrested. 2350 shot in reprisals. 829 died in Nazi camps. 22 gold bravery medals. 40 silver bravery medals.
I began to research events and discovered that the German occupation of Bologna began the day after the Italian prime minister announced that Italy had switched sides in the war. Enemy tanks rolled into the city. Nazi officials hung a swastika flag from the façade of the Hotel Baglioni—the best in Bologna—and commandeered part of the first floor and a large lounge to the right of the lobby, which they converted into their administrative headquarters. Not one Italian authority turned up for a formal handover. With total political chaos there weren’t any Italian authorities at hand.
Over the next several days, the Wehrmacht put their military occupation into action. Repression and intimidation began immediately with the confiscation of vehicles, limits to bicycle transport, a curfew from 11 pm to 4 am, and restrictions on gatherings of more than three people. Worst of all, the Nazis set up transit camps for deportations and slave labour, interning deserters from the Italian army—those they hadn’t already loaded onto cattle trucks and transported to Germany for their nefarious needs.
For the first week or so of the Nazi occupation, Bolognese fascists kept themselves out of political life. But when Hitler made Mussolini the puppet ruler of La Repubblica Sociale Italiana, i fascisti bolognesi became ardent members of the Duce’s reformed anti-monarchist Republican Fascist Party. The repubblichini, as antifascists scathingly called them, started working hand in glove with the Germans.
Consequently, the city became a hotbed of urban guerrilla warfare. The more I researched, the more immersed I became in the events. What happened to the partisans, fighting both against the Nazi occupation and against the fascists in Bologna, was truly harrowing. They grouped in the city when it appeared that the Allies were on the cusp of breaking through German lines in the autumn of 1944 and were caught like sitting ducks when the Anglo-Americans halted their advance. Making my characters go through the terrible repercussions brought tears to my eyes. The actions perpetrated by the fascists against the partisans were so violent, they even sickened the German command. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, war returned to Europe while I was writing the story, rendering my writing particularly poignant.
“The Girl from Bologna” is set during two historical time periods, however. Alongside the monument to the partisans in Piazza del Nettuno there is another monument, listing the names and ages of those killed by a terrorist bomb planted in the railway station on 2nd August 1980. The fact that Bologna had chosen, some years later, to honour the victims in the same location where so many partisans had given their lives, led me to construct the 1981 narrative around that heinous event.
Thank you so much for sharing such fascinating insight into your inspiration. What an amazing decision, to commemorate two such atrocities.
Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Bologna, Italy, 1944, and the streets are crawling with German soldiers. Nineteen-year-old Leila Venturi is shocked into joining the Resistance after her beloved best friend Rebecca, the daughter of a prominent Jewish businessman, is ruthlessly deported to a concentration camp.
In February 1981, exchange student Rhiannon Hughes arrives in Bologna to study at the university. There, she rents a room from Leila, who is now middle-aged and infirm. Leila’s nephew, Gianluca, offers to show Rhiannon around but Leila warns her off him.
Soon Rhiannon finds herself being drawn into a web of intrigue. What is Gianluca’s interest in a far-right group? And how is the nefarious head of this group connected to Leila? As dark secrets emerge from the past, Rhiannon is faced with a terrible choice. Will she take her courage into both hands and risk everything?
An evocative, compelling read, “The Girl from Bologna” is a story of love lost, daring exploits, and heart wrenching redemption.
War crimes against women
Available on #KindleUnlimited
Universal Link: viewbook.at/TGFB
Meet the author
Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and a rescued cat. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time indulging her love of writing and enjoying her life near Venice.
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