cover image I’m Staying Here

I’m Staying Here

Marco Balzano, trans. from the Italian by Jill Foulston. Other Press, $16.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-63542-037-1

A mother living through the early days of WWII in northern Italy writes to her absent daughter, in Italian author Balzano’s quietly devastating English-language debut. As a teenager and aspiring teacher in the village of Curon in 1923, Trina must switch to studying Italian after Mussolini, who annexed the region the year before, forbade the use of German. After Trina’s marriage to Erich, she fails to land a teaching job and begins secretly teaching German until, in 1939, “Hitler’s Germans” offer residents “the Great Option”: join the Reich and leave Italy. Many locals take up the call, but Trina and her husband stay, only to discover that their young daughter, Marica, elects to leave with an aunt and uncle. The narrative is framed as Trina’s letter to Marica, with heartbreaking accounts of her attempts to escape from the advancing Germans in 1943, and of the potential construction of a dam approved by Mussolini before he was deposed, which would condemn their villages to “disappear in a watery grave.” The writing can be simplistic, but Balzano’s unvarnished approach heightens the poignancy of a story based on real events: after the dam was built following the war, all that’s left of Curon today is a bell tower. This tale of destruction is a blunt reminder of war’s ability to destroy: a village, a way of life, and, in particular, a family. (Dec.)