A letter from Italy by Pamela Hart
Hachette, 2017. ISBN 9780733637544
(Age: Senior secondary) Recommended. This richly detailed novel, a war-time story, takes us back to an Italy that few of us would know, or even dream of, so different is the Venice painted by Pamela Hart in her powerful narrative of the 1914 - 1918 War as told by an Australian war correspondent. Hart explores just how strong a woman had to be at this time to compete with men in such a traditionally male dominion. Neither retiring nor shy, she is clearly intending to fulfill her role as well as, or better than a man, despite the male correspondents who demean her role. In fact, her courage, determination and intelligence are at the heart of her strength, and it is on these that she will draw in the dark days of a city on the edge of that terrible war.
Newly married to a serving Australian officer, the young woman is left alone when her husband is sent away and she hears nothing from him. The crucial element of danger becomes more evident as she becomes aware of the enemy's moving closer to the city, and of the nature of the attacks that she discovers. As she pursues intelligence regarding specific war incidents, we are aware of this as a critical point in her career. Supported by new friends, she is determined to pursue a particular inquiry. The depth of her growing understanding of various incidents encourages her to pursue the story of one specific attack, and so to reveal the real story. It is her pursuit of truth and her determination to write the truth, that gain her a strong reputation in the world of war-time reporting.
This is a story that grows better as the narrative progresses. It is about goodness and bravery, decency and treachery, love and hatred. It begins with a lightness that seems typical of a romantic novel. Yet this is not its outcome, as Hart draws us into the narrative and leaves us with a sense of recognition of decency, of good character, loyalty, friendship - in this case evidently emblematic of the elusive quality at the heart of a strong narrative.
I would recommend this novel for senior students. Its initial romantic tone, that makes it see to be a lighthearted romance, is misleading. I found that, as the reality of the strength, talent, determination and decency of Australia's first female war correspondent is revealed, the novel gained in strength and credibility.