Last week saw the return of the National Hall (Narodni dom) in Trieste (Trst) to Slovenia a century after being burned in an anti-Slovenian violence seen as the beginning of Fascism. Coincidentally, on the same day I learned a new novel about that era, and life in a city that was once home to the largest population of Slovenia outside Ljubljana, His Favorite City, by Margaret Walker. I sent him a few questions, and he was kind enough to answer …
What is your relationship with Trieste Trieste?
I was adopted as a baby and my biological mother Silvana (1920 – 2020) was Istrian. I have spent my entire life discovering its history. He was born in Tar and his father was born in Trieste in 1886. His grandmother (his mother’s mother) was a Slovenian from a village near the Austrian border. Silvana worked as a translator for the Allied Military Government in Trieste after the war. In 1950, he emigrated to Australia.
Silvana in 1927 …
… and in 1947
About Istria, my mother said, “We were Austrian, then Austria lost the war. Then we were Italians and the Italians lost the war. ‘I believe that he only considered himself as Istrian. He became Yugoslavia after the war and his parents became Italians. Am I confused?
What can you tell about the novel?
This is a work of historical fiction, and I chose that genre so that history might be more accessible to a wide audience.
This story began in 1928, because that was when the Mussolini government changed the name of my biological mother from Micatovich [Micatovič, Micatovik] to Di Micheli. My initial intention was to record what he told us about his childhood in Istria. Because I like the story of the sea and submarines, I also wanted to include elements of the Austro-Hungarian navy in the narrative, and I began to read about the modern history of Italy and Trieste. My website contains a selected bibliography.
TIGR logo – Wikipedia
The more I research, the clearer that any story about Trieste in the 1920s must include the conflict between Fascist Italy and Slovenia. I read about anti-Fascist groups Tigr (Trieste, Istria, Gorica, Rijeka) and Fascist attacks on House of the People in 1920 and I wondered how I could put this in the novel. This is when I came up with the idea of a group of men working for TIGR led by Stefan Pirjevec, a former submarine captain in the Austro-Hungarian navy whose wife had been killed in a fire in House of the People. This character is based on my neighbor who is a captain in the Australian Merchant Navy. Sydney Harbor, where I live, is a busy passenger port, so every time I write about the port of Trieste in 1920 when it is much busier than when I recently visited, I have to imagine that it is Sydney.
What other research did you do?
As well as history textbooks and websites, I read a number of rare books written in the 1800s about boat trips from Trieste. The best is Rambles in Istria (RHR, London 1875). I read Cemetery by Boris Pahor in English and Oberdan Box in germany. Unfortunately, my German is not very good, but I do my best.
And what else did you learn in writing a book?
I was originally trained in mathematics and science and, as my research continued, I noticed that Italy had a large population compared to the Slovenian population: 40 million to 1.3 million. I asked myself why a country of such size should feel threatened by the Slovenian minority in Trieste.
The answer came from historian Gianfranco Cresciani. Dr Cresciani was born in Trieste and lives in Sydney. He explained the dangers that nationalism could bear for some individuals. I am Australian and Australians are not nationalistic. I find Italian ultra-nationalism (or Fascism) from a hundred years ago very difficult to understand, especially its racism and violence, and its sharp anti-Slav propaganda. However, both Boris Pahor and Jan Morris (Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere) notes that the majority of Trieste’s population is conservative, and does not want such radical politics.
Trieste is ours remains popular in Slovenian memes
Finally, what is the description for His Favorite City, and where can people find it?
First, you can get a copy Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Rant, or directly from the publisher, Penmore Press. You can also see it review of the American Historical Novel Society, and if you want to know about me, I have websitealso, plus a blog that mainly focuses on submarines.
Now the description:
Fascist Italy 1928. Trieste, which was once the port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, has become Italy. When fascism struggled to create pure Italy along its path, Matteo Brazzi was forced to choose his loyalty carefully. When his office was bombed, the police were confused, but Brazzi knew who had committed the crime, and he knew why. Although he was not a sailor, he could easily identify the dark form that disappeared into the Bay of Trieste on that dramatic night, and when he fled to Cittanova in Istria, the mysterious ship followed him along the coast. Brazzi has successfully exploited fascism to protect himself – many would call him a traitor – but he only ever has one true love. Now Nataša is dead and Brazzi owes an error. Too soon he discovered that even Mussolini could not save him from an enemy who was determined to take revenge.
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