Paperback Edition – 288 pages
This gripping story of love and loss centers on Marco, an Italian diplomat; Alice, his American wife; and their young children. Stationed in Prague during World War II, Marco and Alice become enemies when the United States enters the war, forcing Alice and the children to move from Prague to Rome and finally to Cernobbio in a desperate attempt to flee to Switzerland. Through alternating passages narrated by Alice and daughter Susie, readers shuttle back and forth between war-torn Europe and 1950s Massachusetts to search for answers and unravel the mystery about what really happened to Alice during the war.
“A searing narrative that keeps the reader alert, on the edge, at times almost unbearably so. I could not put the novel down. War inhabits the lives of all the characters of Seeking Alice; it pulses through the novel’s own memory. It’s the source of loss and the lethal circle the two narrators—and the reader—must penetrate and understand. The journey into which we are drawn may be defined by the broad strokes of history, but it is the fine precision of the intimate detail, the fierceness of love, the rawness of regret, the force of desire and compassion that pull us. A truly wonderful book!” — Edvige Giunta, author of Writing with an Accent and coeditor of Personal Effects
“Like Elsa Morante’s History: A Novel and Alberto Moravia’s Two Women, Camilla Trinchieri’s Seeking Alice is that rare redemptive and all-too-often ignored story of what it’s like to be a woman living in a war zone trying to keep yourself and your children safe while trying to maintain your own integrity. It is a redemptive novel of witness about this courageous woman’s experience and her daughter’s unrelenting drive to recover her mother’s true history long after the war is over.” — Louise DeSalvo, author of Chasing Ghosts: A Memoir of a Father, Gone to War
“This beautifully written novel is a cross between Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Martha Gellhorn’s A Stricken Field. It’s about the worst moments of the twentieth century as experienced by a family with no good options, and the love, sacrifice, regret—and triumph—they live with in the face of forces beyond their control.” — Kass Fleisher, author of Dead Woman Hollow
Camilla Trinchieri is the author of The Price of Silence. She lives in New York City.
Seeking Alice – Chapter One
Cambridge, Massachusetts, January 1956
Our home is creaking, settling in for the night. David is in the den typing up a paper he’s been working on for at least six months. I sit in the armchair in my study, feet propped up on the windowsill, needing to pee, too tired to get up, too busy caressing my belly, bidding the life growing inside me goodnight. Twelve weeks old. The size of my palm Dr. Page says.
With the baby, Mama has come back into my head. I need her, want her here to guide me. David is loving, attentive. He is willing to shop, cook, wash the dishes, sweep the floors. He’ll do anything to keep me happy and rested and I love him all the more for it, but I ache to say, “Mama. I’m expecting a baby,” and pour my happiness over her, to keep her warm, to shine her face with pride. My baby, her grandchild.
I am filled with questions. Did she dream that her baby would be born with a hole in its heart for lack of love? That the weight of her body, tossing in sleep, would suffocate it? When does the fear go away? With its first kick? When it meets the world and screams?
I picture scenarios in which I ask her to place her hand on my belly and tell me the sex of the baby. She was always good at guessing. A girl, she says and we start spouting possible names. I paint her laughing with joy, hugging me, telling me not to fear, all will be well.
The old Mama dream has come back.
We’re rolling down the mountain surrounded by snow and rock. A black bed of pine trees waits below. Above us the barbed wire of the Italian-Swiss frontier plays its thousand bells, announcing Christmas, warning the German guards. I hold my baby sister against my chest and feel Mama’s hips embracing mine, her arms locked round my waist, her chin hooking my shoulder. A human avalanche, we roll to what we perceive as safety.
Romantic. False. Wishful thinking.
Since that night on Mount Bisbino, twelve years ago, Mama has drifted in and out of my landscape. Sometimes I’ve felt her presence like the phantom limb of an amputee, and in my dreams I asked her countless questions, both serious and silly. Should I cut my hair? Is it okay for my boyfriend to touch my breasts? If I get married, will my love, his love last? For how long? Why aren’t you here to help me? What happened to you?
Other times I reduced her to a pinpoint in my heart, pretending that not having a mother was just fine, nothing to go on about. I had Papa to take care of me. I wasn’t an orphan like so many other kids after the war.
Papa always maintained Mama was killed the night of Christmas Eve, 1944, trying to escape Nazi infested Italy with two of her children. Me and Claire. I believed the story in my teenage years when I was too absorbed in the now of my life to question it. But even then, when someone would ask about my mother, I could hear doubt unfurling as I answered. “She was killed in the war.” As an adult, I cannot help but think her death is the easy, neat explanation, the one that leaves everyone guiltless. Everyone except me, that is.
Maybe Papa knew the alternate ending to Mama’s story. Before he died, I plied him with questions, but his answer never changed. “Alice is dead. Please, Susie, let your mother rest in peace.” I’m left swaying on uncertain ground.
Is her death a lie or did she decide her life would be better without us and walk away? What will I tell my baby about the grandmother she will never have? I want my child to grow up without doubts. I need to search for the different truth that I believe is there. I need to free myself of the guilt I feel. Let go of the past. I have only six months before the baby leaves the cradle of my belly. She will need all of me then. I promise her that. I was a bad daughter. I will be a good mother. I promise.
I have no proof Mama is still alive, but I was there that night on Mount Bisbino. If the Germans had killed Mama, I would have heard the shots. No one fired a single shot.