Marco Balzano's powerful I'm Staying Here, translated from Italian by Jill Foulston, is set during World War II in Curon in northern Italy, closer geographically and culturally to Switzerland and Austria than to Rome. "Our language was German, our religion Christianity, our work was in fields and cowsheds," remembers Trina, the narrator, as she addresses her long-lost daughter. Turmoil outside the village, once easily ignored by "blind faith in destiny, absolute trust in God, the heedlessness of men who wanted only peace," shatters the conscious indifference of the provincial villagers.
Mussolini's Fascist government creates havoc in Curon. "Employees from the Tyrol were dismissed on the spot.... Italians hung up signs in their offices saying IT IS FORBIDDEN TO SPEAK GERMAN and MUSSOLINI IS ALWAYS RIGHT" Trina recalls. Worried townspeople find themselves choosing between Hitler's "Great Option," where they leave Italy and join the still-powerful Reich, or staying put under Mussolini's brutal regime. Trina and Erich, her husband, aren't interested in aligning with either. "We're not Nazis or fascists.... We're not anything, just farmers," her husband says. Instead, they make a daring escape north. Their harrowing journey to survive is a significant portion of Trina's memories. "We haven't escaped the war up here," she says to Erich at one desperate point. "But we haven't become their accomplices," he replies. This lesser-known, melancholy story of World War II shines a light on those whose courage manifests itself in resisting oppression from all sides. Balzano, an award-winning writer in his native Italy, has written a novel perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr and Kristin Hannah. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.