The originality of “I’m Staying Here,” by Marco Balzano, sets this slim paperback apart from other World War II historical fiction books. The voice of the story is as unique as its Italian locale in South Tyrol, a territory annexed from Austria. It’s the story of a family and a village caught in the maelstrom of the war, a village also facing extinction from a proposed dam.
Trina, the main character and the book’s narrator, lives in Curon, an actual village in northern Italy. She addresses readers as if she’s writing to her daughter, her beloved offspring, missing for years.
Readers will be intrigued as they page on, curious about what’s happened to Trina’s daughter, who disappeared from Curon as the Fascists and Nazis fight for control, the hamlet and its people pawns on the chessboard of warring factions.
We meet Trina as she looks back on her life, an educated woman, a teacher whose vocation is interrupted by the chaos in Curon. In the spring of 1923, Trina was in high school when Mussolini wracked havoc on nearby Bolzano, the military police looking the other way.
Trina marries Erich, a man who works for her father, the only man she’s ever been interested in and the two make a life together. But in 1939, trouble in the village spills over when Hitler’s Germans offer what they call “The Great Option.”
Italians are invited to leave their country and move into Germany to be part of the Reich. Erich and Trina are appalled by this offer—their roots are in Curon and they want to raise their daughter in the Italian village they’ve always called home. “The Great Option” divides Curon’s people, pits them against one another, and a dire, heartbreaking tragedy befalls Erich and Trina.
“I’m Staying Here,” translated from Italian by Jill Foulston, brings to light the peril of a community caught in the crossfire of World War II. It’s a personal, easy-to-read novel set in a village that draws travelers today who come to view the only remaining structure there, a bell tower surrounded by water that’s pictured on the book’s cover. This is a fascinating quick-read you won’t want to miss.