Ex-pats or e-migrants?

‘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’.

Front cover
Front cover

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
Michelle Saftich
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.

Book covers

I’ll end with a comment about the cover. There are two main questions:

  1. Does the cover accurately portray this novel?
  2. 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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book provided through Italy Book Tours.

77 comments on “Ex-pats or e-migrants?

    • It’s a book that would suit certain readers I suppose. I’m pretty open-minded about what I read. Dylan had a fantastic description for it, but I’ve forgotten his terminology. Luckily.

      You know me and covers. :D I think if you like/dislike something it needs to be quantified.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. That’s a great cover design. It’s sad that I look at book covers now and worry about the one for my next book that I haven’t even written yet. Also, the bar code must have been embedded onto the cover, as it’s centered at the bottom. Blargh.

    Book covers will never be the same now. I feel like I’ve peeked behind the curtain and found the Wizard of Oz behind there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah? Well, good for what it depicts, I think, which was my point. I’m a big believer in paying for two things, editing and covers. Some people can get away with one, not the other. Depends on skills and talents I guess.

      I’ve been looking at another draft cover and it’s set left, but for a reason. Depends where and why you want it. I’ll have to look at BAU again, I’ve forgotten where your barcode was.

      Nothing is ever the same once you have gone through the looking glass or wardrobe of self-publishing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That cover would attract me, but the back cover blurb doesn’t sound accurate.
    I did know about the situation…father knew the man who was to become Marshal Tito from when the latter was running the International Brigade offices in France so he followed events there.
    So, knowing about the background I probably wouldn’t want to read the book – but that’s purely me and nothing to do with its merits.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know a lot of authors have problems writing the back cover blurb. It shouldn’t be a summary of the story, or give away key events or spoilers, it should be tell us what the story is about, which means taking a broad look, or a birds-eye view. And when you have spent ages writing something that’s not easily done.
      Only you could drop Tito casually into a blog comment! I’d have thought if you knew something about it, it would be an incentive to read – but on the other hand, if you found it lacking … it is fiction after all.

      Liked by 1 person

        • My father met Geoffrey Boycott once. I don’t think that’s quite the same thing.

          I quite like crime unless I have to read every gruesome detail of eyeball hacking out/breasts lopping off/smashed bones etc. La Plante does a good line in sadistic OTT gore. Spy novels are better, always too convoluted to guess in advance and less gratuitous violence.

          I think the last non-fiction I read was Bhutto’s first bio. Although others may well consider it fiction.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I should think that Marsha; Tito and Sir Geoffrey might have more in common than we suspect.
            And I gather from ‘The Telegraph’ that his conviction for mistress beating in a French court has been examined (by ‘The Telegraph’) and been shown to be a farrago of nonsense.

            When I was working I had colleagues who went into criminal practice because they found the lives of their clients ‘so exciting’ compared with their own.
            I prefer to have the ‘excitement’ confined to the pages of a book…I’m not fond of the bloody details or inevitable animal abuse but I do like to maunder along with the investigation. No one beats Reginald Hill for me in that genre.
            I’m just about to read ‘Vanished Kingdoms’ by Norman Davies again….well worth a look for a history buff.


    • Just a total revelation to me. I think it’s good that Saftich has raised this issue with a fictional story based on actual events. I thought she did well keeping a coherent story with some diverse strands, and like you, I thought the children’s aspect was very strong. As for the Monte character … Words fail me!


  3. I worked with a woman who was born in Pola/Pula when it belonged to Italy – her family left after the the borders moved post WWII – she was a baby at the time. I also worked with an young Australian man of Croatian heritage – these two had some lively discussions as to what belonged to who in the former Yugoslavia.


    • When I was looking up the geography and reading about it I noticed Pola/Pula figured heavily in the displacement. I’m a big believer in self-determination. Of course if people are killed or forced out, it’s somewhat academic.


  4. Seems worth reading. The comments about the cover are interesting. I have come across more covers recently that seem to have absolutely no connection with the title, the story, or anything else about the book – even with the period out. Do some publishers select them with a blindfold and a pin?
    Even where a scene from the book is recognisably selected, but is in disagreement on a number of scores, I find myself violently irritated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For me, I learned a whole new part about WW2. What a complex period of time and power struggles.

      Covers … I think one can accept self pubs have a limited budget, but when publishing companies produce strange covers, there is no hope …

      I thought this cover accurately summarised the title. So that’s one option. Another is to look at the key elements of the story, or as you say, one specific scene. I suspect a lot of people don’t think visually.

      Liked by 1 person

      • WW2 was, indeed, a time of lots and lots of goings on constantly going on all at the same time, quite breathtaking in intensity and complexity.
        Some cover designers have told me they believe in covers giving an abstract of the theme rather than any accurate scene depiction.


  5. I’ll be interested to read Port of No Return… having just bought the Kindle version after reading your review… it and the topic were very persuasive! Robb (Rudi’s son) and I have been having a very interesting exchange of emails. Rudi & Ollie were also displaced persons after WW2. I can’t blog about it, but you can imagine much of the story, similar to this.


    • Oh no!! Not my fault. I should say, in case you want to return it, and as I tried to suggest, it is very journo in style, ie almost objective reporting. It’s detached and lacking emotion as the style is omniscient third person rather than third person limited/personal/intimate. I actually think some of that would have improved it as a novel, but as a reportage it works well enough. Or it did for me. I’m really pleased Robb found your blog :) so yes, maybe this may well be of interest, even if not the same location, and you may want to read the sequel when the families arrive in Aus.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for your review of my novel Port of No Return. I am pleased to see it is shedding light on a little known war, as well as the “foibe killings” – now remembered in Italy each year on a Memorial Day.
    I promise you the sequel does stay with this family and their migration to Australia and how they adapt to Australian culture in the 1950s-60s. I am also glad you found the cover a good match for the story and time period. I like the cover too.
    All the best
    Michelle Saftich


    • Michelle, thank you so much for reading my review. I really appreciated you sending print books out, as it is so much easier to review a print book, for whatever reason! I really liked the social commentary aspect of your book, yet told through the personal and familial. It was a successful mix. My uncle migrated to Aus in the same period so your sequel sounds well interesting. I think your cover was a wiki commons one? But, regardless, it still captured the essence.

      Good luck with the sequel.


  7. Sounds interesting. I can see how you (and myself for that matter) would be attracted to this kind of genre. There’s that unspoken but very real embedded familiarisation along with the yearning to discover something new/different from another’s experiences.

    As to your question, definately expat, especially if one is staying in one place… migrants on the other hand may move from place to place… Global gypsies if you like. ;) Immigrants on the other hand… pretty much become expats… You asked. ;) I’m an Ex Expat. :D


  8. I am sure if you do the covers and summaries for the books, they will all sell. You do it so well. :D

    It does sound like an interesting book, but as you know I do prefer it in movie format. I don’t do much reading nowadays, unless it’s on the blogs.

    I would love to read more about your travels for sure and all the places you’ve been. If hubby didn’t have to work and we had more than enough money, we would get a motorhome and travel all along the coastline of South Africa. Now that I would love. Visiting a place and knowing you have to go back home won’t be any fun.

    How are you and Snows doing?


    • Covers?! All I do is comment on covers. Bad enough editing the flipping books. This would do film very well. But when I read, as I’ve told you before, I have a film running in my head, so, I dont need someone else to put it on film or celluloid or whatever it is now.

      I really should find time to write up the travels. Wish I’d got the letters I sent people. Back in ye olden days.

      Travel is fun, but a home is nice too … sorry, was off line for a while. Good thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sounds like fun. LOL!

        I used to do the same when I read a lot, but with my monovision and presbyopia it’s a bit difficult, so I do the next best thing and that is to watch movies. :D

        I would love to travel in a motorhome, but it’s not safe here in SA unfortunately. Home is the best place to be and glad to see you’re back. You’ve worked way too hard. :D


        • I fidget too much to concentrate on films unless they are absolutely riveting. Books, I can put down, get on with the cooking and pick up again. Plus with being shortsighted, it’s a pain watching films. Books I can peer at :D

          That is such a shame about the lack of safety :( It looks the most beautiful place to travel round. Maybe in convoy? I know of people who have travelled although stayed with a no of SA friends as I vaguely recall. Back to work again soon. I think my brain slowly unfreezing.

          Liked by 1 person

          • The same here. I tend to push the forward button when it gets boring. LOL!

            It is a shame and it sure is. No way. When I do travel, I don’t want strangers around me and being in a convoy will mean having people telling you where to go and what to do. Ugh! That sounds way too much like ‘The Walking Dead’.

            At least you have a brain. Ask Snowy if he haven’t seen my brain cells lying around there. LOL!


          • The other annoyance is watching films on TVs and then adverts come on! Or, if you do need to leave the room, you can’t actually press pause :D

            Yes, I can’t imagine a convoy either. We went out with a couple of walking groups (only twice). The first was good, great walk, good pace, really enjoyed it. The second one stopped for tea breaks every ten minutes. We asked if we could take dogs. Well, not really, or only if we have approved them. You can see why we never went back :D

            Not much good when it rarely functions. Snowy’s not interested in brain cells – unless – did they have butter on them?

            Liked by 1 person

          • Oh, I remember those as well but we don’t watch TV at all anymore. We call our TV a ‘multimedia system’ now. LOL!

            O dear me, no! I can see why you never went back.

            hahahaha! Maybe they did and in that case, they would be gone! LOL!

            Liked by 1 person

  9. Solid review although this isn’t a time period I usually read. The world has been shaped by large migrations of people. Many modern day situations might make more sense if people had knowledge and understanding of history. You’ve intrigued me, so will check it out.
    Book covers. I’ve heard authors fret and moan over battles with publishers over what should go on their books. Must be really maddening for an author. Small publishers and self publishing are a whole new thing – for good and bad.


    • I used not to like modern history, too recent, I’ve found recently I really enjoy C20 fiction, probably because it’s now so much in the past. Part of my past.

      Self-pub should be good for covers, if only authors had visual imagery. Not all do. But yes, frustrating the lack of control over not just covers, but editing with trad pub. Horses for courses, for good and bad.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Not sure how I came to be unfollowing, because I definitely was. Anyway, I’m glad I found you at Ark’s place, which reminded me that I hadn’t seen your posts for a while, and so I’m following again now.
    Displacement on any scale is always fertile ground for fiction. On a personal level, it’s life-changing in far more ways than the obvious. i.e. once you have been uprooted the first time, it seems to open up a whole new mental landscape. This of course can be uncomfortable if you return to the place where you began when you did have roots. The people you left behind, tend not to grasp where you have been, or how it changes you. Apart from all that, you’ve written a compelling review of Port Of No Return, and the cover is indeed very appealing.


    • I always blame it on WP. :)

      I think when we have moved, travelled, lived elsewhere, these sort of books are bound to fascinate.

      Regarding your points, one of our (Dutch) friends in Sydney, said he was a foreigner in Aus, and, after so long away, he was a stranger in his home town too. You’ve gone back, not something we are keen on doing. Not just back to wherever our roots are, we wouldn’t go back to other ‘temporary’ home places.

      Interestingly, there is a line somewhere in Port about not being able to go back.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Once you are dislocated though – it may be uncomfortable in some ways, but it keeps you AWAKE. You see things in sharper focus perhaps.Or at least what you see is informed by experiences on many different horizons. When we were officially nomads in British Aid world I never felt more alive, and engaged. That can be a bit wearing though :)


        • I guess there are so many different ways to be out of country. In a way, once you have left your native country it’s all much of a muchness. Not the same experiences eg British Aid and us just globetrotting and nomading around, but still, so much to learn and absorb, and try and keep your head on at the same time.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. As soon as I saw the cover picture I thought, ‘that is Constitution Dock in Hobart’ the town where I live. I was interested to see that the stories were based on Australia so I will stick with Hobart.

    The following picture shows what I think is the building and mountain (I have learnt that artists sometimes use artistic license and don’t always paint exactly what they see – that is the building seems to have an extra story in the artists rendition)


    • Thanks for the piccies, they are lovely. Despite having visited Hobart I don’t remember much. Mainly that everything closed on Saturday afternoon (may be different now), and we wandered up and down dull shopping malls. I did like Tassy though. Had a rather spooky lift there :( My partner spent his first visit to Australia working in Tas for a year and never left the place.

      Back to the pic. It’s actually a wiki commons pic, but I’ve not seen the original. Although the blurb talks about them being Italian emigrants to Aus, they don’t actually leave Italy, so I’m still betting that the pic is European-based 😛 Suppose I should really have asked the author!


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