Alessandro Troise: “Romulo Felippe’s ability in historical reconstruction is bond with his skills of storyteller”
Black Birds in the Snow is far more than a fiction story. Proceeding with the reading, soon we realize that Romulo Felippe outlines the portrait of a precise period of Italian history. It was the 10th of June 1940 when Benito Mussolini announced that Italy had officially entered in War. What in Mussolini’s plan should be a short-term campaign of conquest next to Hitler’s army soon became one of the longest, darkest tragedy of our Country.
After three years of massacres in the fields of France, North Africa, Greece, Yugoslavia, Russia, where thousands of Italian soldiers paid with their blood the thirst of power of Fascism; after RAF’s bombings all over the Country, that reduced to dust entire cities and killed very numerous people, Italy was in a dramatic situation: Anglo-American troops had attacked from south, conquered Sicily and penetrated through the Country which, in the autumn of 1943, found itself divided in two zone: the South, under Allie’s control, the Centre and North under Nazi-fascist’s power.
From this point, until war’s end, civilians paid the highest prize of the conflict: in fact, they were brutalized in all the way possible, by both sides. The largest part of civilian victims were women and children: thousands of them were raped and abused. Most of them were so devastated by the violence that only decades later found the strength to talk about what they went through.
My grandmother, who lived with her family in Nazi-occupied Rome, used to tell me about the horrible episodes she lived and witnessed, such as sudden bombings, mass deportation of young men to forced-labour camps, or the brutal killing of a man, who used to help roman partigiani, arrested and ruthlessly tortured by Gestapo and fascisti. She, who was just eleven years old, watched him dying in excruciating pain. Same horrifying event was witnessing the killing of a young German soldier, shot in front of her by a partigiano.
She was undoubtedly traumatized by these events and listening her testimonials made me realize how War deeply influenced those who shouldn’t have been involved, but were mercilessly overwhelmed by the inhumanity of the conflict. Especially childhood, the age of innocence, was blown away for most of those who lived that dark years.
That is the cruel reality Black Birds in the Snow portraits. Romulo Felippe begins his story right after that autumn of 1943, when the most horrifying parts of the war, for Italian people, had started.
The events of the book, the tragedy of a family, became symbol of the greatest human tragedy represented by war for, as for Italy as for the entire World. Things are even more dramatic, because we are introduced in the story by the point of view of a little girl, who lives in a small angle of Paradise in the heart of Dolomites, unaware of the fear, death and cruelty that dominate the reality around her. Soon, the bucolic Peace of their lives will be destroyed.
A terrible past, that pervades the place with his haunting presence even thirty years later, when a new generation became the protagonist of the story and, inevitably, is forced by circumstances to deal with the ghosts hidden there.
Romulo Felippe’s ability in historical reconstruction is bond with his skills of storyteller: his style is flowing, linear, without frills. He describes characters, as well as locations, with simple, clear notations, but so effective that we can feel the atmosphere, the emotions, as an impressionist painter does with his brush strokes. It is also remarkable his knowledge of Italian popular culture: the legendary tale of the giant of Sassolungo, for example, but primarily the music, with citations of pieces by beloved bands such as Dik Dik or Le Orme, as well as old classic artists such Enrico Caruso.
His depiction of landscapes and the suggestions coming from them, particularly, shows his talent in capturing the reader very easily. The mountain region of Dolomites emerges with all its ambiguous particularities, a place marked with death by two World Wars, but also gifted with a unique, breath-taking beauty. Black Birds in the Snow show us the brutality of which men are capable.
Nevertheless, there is space for a lot more, in this book. First of all, this is a story about Nature, the relationship between Nature and humans and the deep, ancient, values that life in contact with wilderness can teach to us: a simple way of life and, mostly, the love for animals, which are a constant presence during the unfolding of the story. The crows, the wolves, the sheep, Alpha the San Bernardo and Kilian the hawk are characters with their role and importance, their symbolic values and, most important, they remind us to always respect all lives, humans or animals.
Also, this is a story about realizing with the past. As Emma, descendant of the Domenichelli’s family, has to cope with the painful story of her previous generation, sooner or later we have to face our past, even if it is unpleasant. Dominick’s words are emblematic: «We have the power to escape from the future, but never to dissociate ourselves from the past».
But more than anything else, this is a book about re-emerging. About defeating evil with the goodness inside us. This story celebrates the power of human soul, capable of the most courageous and noble actions in the name of love for those we care: our parents, our children, our partners. With the tender love story of Emma and Dominick, the horrible events of the past step aside to allow the growth of new hope. The most important lesson we learn from this novel is exactly this: «What pain has destroyed, only love can rebuild».
Alessandro Troisi is an award-winning writer
Roman, author of “La Biblioteca del Diavolo” and “La Dinastia dei Re”
released in Italy by Newton Compton Editori.