Partisan Diary: A Woman’s Life in the Italian Resistance

Ada Gobetti was an ardent antifascist who was a member of the non-communist party known as the Partito d’Azione. Her field of action was the province of Turin and the Alpine region from Susa to the French border. She wrote this diary every day in cryptic English.

It’s a bit sad Ada Gobetti has written this diary not so much from the perspective of a woman as an aspiring conventional historian of her time, which, of course, means from a largely masculine perspective. Therefore its focus is essentially on male priorities of documentation. She tends to organise her material from a political administrative point of view. So we get little of her inner life and little outward detail of the day to day. Instead she focuses on activity of a political nature, recounting endless meetings with this man or that group, most of whom only make one appearance and then vanish into a footnote. That said, there’s a real sense of a woman living in a brutalised man’s world and as such forced to imitate men if she’s going to acquire any autonomy of action. Iris Origo, far more privileged, perhaps carried out deeds of a more classically female nature – establishing a sanctuary for children and the vulnerable, helping the old, sick and persecuted rather than making plans to blow up bridges – and her wartime reminiscences – War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944 are definitely more literary, better organised and more engaging on a personal level. I was hoping to read more about everyday life in Italy during the war – what was in the shopping bags of women, how they spent their days, what they talked about. The most compelling parts were her feelings for her son, a young partisan who often goes missing on missions. Interesting that her son, by all accounts a very active partisan, never appeared to fire a shot throughout the entire duration of the war, probably a more realistic depiction of partisan life than the gung-ho armed battles we read about in modern novels. You do get a sense of the hardships of war – the cold and the hunger. And especially the daily perils of being in the resistance movement. She almost always has things in her bag which, if discovered, would mean arrest and torture. The best part was probably the account of her trek over the Alps to France along with her son and other young partisans even though you never quite understood why she as a lone woman, was making the perilous journey. That seemed to be a theme of the partisan life – taking huge risks for very small gains. One time she walks past German soldiers with a Bren gun underneath her coat. The bravery of Ada is immensely and relentlessly admirable.

I feel mean only giving this three stars because I’m glad books like this are published. Except I feel you’ve got to be interested in the anti-fascist movement in Italy to find this book engaging because, in all truth, it’s more of a political document than a personal testament of human interest. Personally I would have edited it down from 350 pages to about 250 pages. It’s good for archival purposes that she mentions her meetings with just about everyone who helped in the resistance movement but I think they could have put out an alternative version which omits all this information and just follows a more personal narrative.download

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