The Neppi Modona Diaries

Kate Cohen, Author Dartmouth Publishing Group $35 (284p) ISBN 978-0-87451-783-5
Cohen has integrated primary and secondary sources into a fascinating portrait of a family, a nation and an era that is not only an informative historical text but also a great read. The Neppi Modonas were relatives of Cohen's father whom she visited in Florence for brief periods beginning when she was 12. There are layers of family history here: conversations with matriarch Rachel (a native of the island of Rhodes) and her daughter, Lionella, are interspersed with sections from the journal of Rachel's husband, Aldo, and the youthful ""novel"" written by their son Leo about the family's experiences during WWII. Cohen pulls all this together with background on Fascism and its anti-Semitism. For example, Rachel's revelation that Aldo was a member of the Fascist party is followed by explanations of the back-and-forth relationship between Jews and Fascists (many Jews joined Mussolini's party, believing it would protect them) and Aldo's slightly aloof description of the impact of the ""racial laws"" on his work as a professor. Cohen also explores the meaning of Judaism in Italy in general, including a charming account of the year she and her sister attended Rosh Hashanah services in Florence and found themselves surrounded by other Americans. Only later did they learn that Italian Jews regularly arrive 45 minutes late to services and feel free to chatter while the rabbi conducts them. After reading about the experience of being Jewish under Fascism, this serves as a welcome reminder of continuity. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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