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There's No Home - Book of the Month

by Alexander Baron

Catania in Sicily is not exactly a throbbing metropolis at the best of times, and in 1943, bombed out, hungry and tired, its citizens sweltered in the hottest summer in living memory. Every able-bodied man between sixteen and sixty had gone to the war. Married women struggled to support their children and old relatives, with hardly any food and absolutely no medicine. Unmarried girls were sick of it all: no clothes, no fun, no one to walk out with, get engaged to or even flirt with.

This story evolves around one little street in Catania. No one knew where their men were and the war was clearly not going well for Italy. Letters were delayed or did not arrive at all, and it was months since any money had been paid. As they stood in their doorways in the narrow street, the news reached them that thousands of Italian soldiers had been killed or taken prisoner in North Africa.

It was into this vacuum that a rather battle weary British battalion marched. They had fought hard and lost so many of their men that they were sidelined for a while until they could be brought up to strength. They were tired and feeling particularly far from home. Like soldiers everywhere, after a hard fight, with horrific sights and sounds still marching through their sleep, they were in great need of some semblance of home life: a clean bed, a pair of soft arms, the sound of children. They needed the company of kind, decent women.

The soldiers knew there was more hard fighting to be done in Italy, probably harder than the battles they had already fought. Many of them had loving wives at home, and everyone knew they would soon be moving on. But in this brief interlude they found it impossible not to respond to these lonely, homely, needy families. Women and children and old men greeted them warmly and were happy to let them fill the roles left by absent husbands and fathers. Perhaps the families were predatory and in some cases the soldiers' relations with them were exploitative, but everyone was a great deal happier for the time being.

Eventually, a real love develops between Graziella, a pretty young woman in despair of ever hearing from her husband again, and Sergeant Craddock, whose rough manner masks a deep sympathy for her and for women like her, so often left in misery and need because of war.

This bitter sweet story is almost certainly biographical: three of Baronís most successful novels were informed by his years on service with the Eighth Army. Written with the authenticity of lived experience, THEREíS NO HOME is a compassionate and moving portrayal of the emotional impact of war.

Paula McMaster

Sort Of Books 272pp.

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