“It Happened in Italy” by Elizabeth Bettina was as interesting a reading experience as it was a story. I picked the book up through Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Bloggers program, intrigued to read about the little known history of Jews in Italy during World War II. As a general overiew, the book is broken up into short chapters, many of which feature extensive photography and document replications from the period. The visual history this provides is fascinating, helping immerse us in the stories told.
I have two main gripes about the book. Firstly, Ms. Bettina has given us, essentially, a travel diary of her experience in writing the book. Interwoven into the journey are the stories of the people she encountered. Oftentimes, the stories take a backseat to her and Vince’s surprise at way the history is interconnected with the various parties they meet. It truly is astounding how the project unfolded, and the favor she found with high ranking officials at the Vatican is extraordinary. But many, like me, picked up this book to hear the stories of Jews in Italy, and whilst we get anecdotes and some genuine history, I cannot help but feel that the stories needed more weight given to them in terms of pages.
My second dislike (and I’m sorry Ms. Bettina) is that the voice of the narrator is a hinderance to the text. It often felt like I was reading a blog, or a Facebook note about somebody’s vacation – not exactly the tone I expected from a historical account. I am now accutely aware that Ms. Bettina suffers from the same requirement for caffeine in the morning as I myself do, and that the officials in Italy wear sashes that resemble Miss World contestant attire. I just didn’t need that information more than the stories of the survivors.
To its credit, though, the experience was enlightening. I admit I endured to read this book out of obligation – unlike my wife, I am apt to discard a book quite quickly and not feel bad for not reading it, but my obligation to Thomas Nelson’s program overrode my usual flippancy. As such, I was forced to embrace the story despite the mode in which it was written and I came to a gentle rebuke to my spirit – a good story will overcome a lacking storyteller. So often we hold back from telling the story of our lives because consider ourselves neither a poet nor a speaker, but it seems that some stories just must be told, no matter by whom.
And so I raise my glass to Ms. Bettina – though your voice may not be the most refined in the narrative realm, your determination to get the story told, and your willingness to follow it through to the end, have enriched my mind and heart.