‘British people are nomads,’ said the young Spaniard who had accosted us in the street. He was an English teacher so what better to do during a sleepy siesta than collar the only two idiots in the street so he could practise his English?
And, in truth, his comment was on the nail. We’d just travelled down the whole Andalucían coastline, and then travelled into the Algarve, up through the Alentejo, and into Lisbon and Sintra. From there we went to Evora and then Mérida, but the Andalucían coastline called us back, so we’d returned via the scenic Sierra Morena and stopped off – unsuccessfully – in the hopes of lunch in a sleepy Cordoban town.
But it’s one thing deciding to travel, or live abroad, it’s another to be forced to.
Port of No Return
When I picked up Port of No Return, by Michelle Saftich, I was expecting a story about Italians starting a new life in Australia. Not unreasonable as the back cover proclaims it as: ‘a rich and varied account of Italian migration to Australia after World War II’.
As a former resident in Australia I was obviously interested in how others adapted 60 or 70 years ago.
Except … they didn’t. The book is actually about displaced families in Italy living in the disputed area on the borders of Italy and Croatia/Yugoslavia. The area, and especially Fiume/Rijeka has changed hands many times over the years, with the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian Empire getting in on the act as well.
In this book, our main characters are living in Fiume (then Italian) but under German occupation. Residents are compelled to work in whatever the Germans assign them to, and the occupiers help themselves to farm produce from those living on the land. But, as Fiume is so near the border, the Italians are also under threat from Yugoslav partisans (communist).
For some reason my WW2 lessons didn’t concentrate on an itty-bitty disputed area of Italy/Croatia so this was not only a good story, it was a fascinating historical read seen from a social perspective – which made me look up the factual side. For example, I’d also never heard of the foibe massacres where victims were killed by throwing them into sinkholes. Saves bullets I suppose. And Saftich has a harrowing scene describing one of these killings.
But primarily, we follow the history of a number of displaced and separated families from Fiume and elsewhere as they try and literally survive, the men on the run from the Yugoslavs, and the women and children in lice-infested refugee camps in Trieste, living on meagre, scanty rations. We see the dynamics between people living in close proximity who make friendships and alliances, the men waiting execution, the women trying not to lose hope, and to care for their children as best they can, and the children learning to live a strange camp life, also making their own friendships and growing up with no home of their own.
Port of No Return has moments of pathos, of tragedy, of joy, and importantly of hope. It’s a compelling story, although in parts it slows slightly. Saftich has a journalistic background, and there is an objectivity to the story that renders the reader slightly distant, almost as though watching it unfold through a pair of binoculars rather than in front of a widescreen TV. There were a few errors, but not enough to detract. What would have been great, would have been a historical map.
It’s a fictional story based on true events, the author interviewed a number of displaced Italian exiles, including her father. And, I understand, the Australian part comes in the sequel.
Michelle Saftich was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia. She spent ten years living in Sydney, and two years teaching English in Osaka, Japan. She now lives in Brisbane with her husband and two children.
She has a Bachelor of Business/Communications Degree, from the Queensland University of Technology. For the past 20 years, she has worked in communications, including print journalism, sub-editing, communications management and media relations.
Worth a read. It’s around 250 pages in print version so can easily be read in a day. It’s also worth reading to realise, from our comfy homes, what sort of life the countless refugees we still have in this world go through every day.
I’ll end with a comment about the cover. There are two main questions:
- Does the cover accurately portray this novel?
- Will it sell books?
I thought this cover was a good choice for a book set in the mid-late 40s. You immediately know you are getting a novel set in the past, and the title intrigues, why is it a port of no return? is the observer looking on the port for the last time? It’s obvious the port is European from the architecture, and from the book it could have been either Trieste or Genoa. I also liked the back cover which continues the same front cover photo as a backdrop but emphasises the synopsis.
Some of the authors I work for ask me about covers. Hell, authors I don’t work for do too! I always think it is odd when an author doesn’t ask their editor for a view. After all, who knows the book as well, apart from the author? It’s not, do you personally like it, but rather, does this cover accurately portray the story? And then, from a visual perspective, how successful are the chosen images, fonts and overall placement. If not, why not?
But, I have done design and layout courses, and worked with a lot of graphic designers, so maybe I’m atypical. The other option of course, is to put up cover alternatives on your blog. Book covers usually seem to generate interest and honesty.
The second question is anyone’s guess … I wish I had the answer £££££££
Here’s a giveaway. Five copies of the book and an Amazon gift voucher.
Book provided through Italy Book Tours.