2017 IASA Book Award
The Italian American Studies Association committee is pleased to present the 2017 Book Award to Camilla Trinchieri for Seeking Alice (Excelsior Editions, State University of New York Press 2016).
The committee found this novel to be a wonderful work of large scope, meaningful detail, and evocative emotion. A rich saga, Seeking Alice tells a story of moral complexity during a momentous time in US / Italy relations. It describes Rome with a painterly precision. It is a story of philosophical weight and electric prose.
Dennis Barone, University of Saint Joseph
Joanna Clapps Herman, Manhattanville College
Fred Misurella, East Stroudsburg University
A novel by Camilla Trinchieri
(SUNY Press, Excelsior editions), 224 pp., $19.95.
Key words in the title of this absorbing narrative about the devastations of war on love are “a novel,” because the dedication, “In Memoriam,” alludes to what the story itself seems to evoke, a sense that this moving fictional narrative has a strong basis in reality. If so, it nonetheless shows what good fiction can often do that memoirs and autobiographies cannot: rise above historical facts to enunciate a theme that extends beyond the particular time and place, here central Europe in the early forties. The book’s epigraph would suggest as much. It’s from William Faulkner – “Memory believes before knowing remembers,” a gnomic statement that might mean that the heart knows instinctively what evidence only later affirms, the point being, as it is for the central character in Seeking Alice, that deep and abiding bonds never die and may in fact contradict reports of the death of a loved one.
Susie, the oldest of Alice’s three children, opens the novel with a first-person narration set in Cambridge, MA. It’s 1956. She’s happily married and is expecting her first child, but she’s forever haunted by nightmares and faint memories of being in Prague, then Italy, with her beloved mother, Alice, or Alinka as she was called by her husband and friends. “Mama has come back into my head. I need her, want her here to guide me.” But as far as Susie knows and as her younger brother insists, their mother is dead, a victim of the war, shot on Christmas Eve as she pushed Susie and her baby sister Claire through a wire fence in Nazi-infested Italy to safety in Switzerland in 1943. Before that, though, as Susie remembers, Alice was dying in another way, mentally, emotionally, incarcerated in an institution in Rome and given shock therapy. Susie’s brother, Andy, a talented frail musician, had been spirited away to safety in Spain by their father. Papa was an Italian diplomat, the Vice Consul, during the Fascist and Nazi regimes.
Switch to a first-person narration by Mama, October 1941. Alice is pregnant (with Claire) and is still “awash in peace, happiness,” but as much as Alice adores her handsome husband Marco, she despises the Nazis and the Fascists, particularly when, like Reinhard Heydrich, they come visiting their home in Prague. It’s still early in war, but, as Alice says, “Before Prague I didn’t know `Jew’ in any language.” Her husband makes apologies for his position and wants her to conform. He’s anxious about protecting them, especially after America enters the war. This political difference infects their relationship, despite fervent sexual passion between them and a genuine shared love of their children. But as events grow more dire, with bombings and hardships, Alice becomes unhinged and wants out, out of Prague, Rome, Europe. They lived for a while in the States (in Newport). She wants to get back. Marco says he cannot leave his post and protect them. He’s often away anyway, and at least on one occasion, is discovered by Alice to have been having an affair. She may be a bit willing to forgive him for that but not for the wider deception: “He has deceived me, deceived his children, and by wearing a Fascist uniform only for personal convenience, he has ended up deceiving even those faceless men who died in Russia and Africa.” She feels herself becoming a different person.” Wartime is woman’s time. Blame it on the war.” At one point she makes Susie write 100 times: “I am an American.”
It was a clever move, stylistically divide the narrative into alternating streams of consciousness of mother and child, both seeing similar events with some differences though the basic facts remain. The war is finally over and Susie is in Cambridge, awaiting the birth of her child. But what happened to Alice? Papa never talked about her and the children have only their dreams. Andy is convinced Alice is dead, and yet finds slips of paper after Papa dies, that show him paying sums of money to nuns in Rome. Intuitively, without reason or cause, Susie determines to seek Alice, to find out what happened after that Christmas Eve when she and Claire were pushed into Switzerland. Suspense builds, and Trinchieri drives toward her conclusion with skill and heart.#
“Seeking Alice” is a gripping story of love and loss that 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. “Seeking Alice” by Camilla Trinchieri is a deftly crafted and compelling story of the disintegration of an American and Italian family caught in Europe during World War II. It is one of those all-too-rare novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. While very highly recommended for community, college, and university library Literary Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that “Seeking Alice” is also available in a Kindle format
“This novel blends a deeply emotional story with an environment that is captivating in its danger and complexity.”
In Camilla Trinchieri’s Seeking Alice, World War II is a force that makes it difficult for families to stay together. With a careful hand, Trinchieri paints a realistic picture of how love, betrayal, loss, and guilt shape one family in a period when the parameters of daily life shifted constantly.
Alice and Marco are living in Prague with their three children when WWII breaks out. As an Italian diplomat, Marco must toe the Fascist Party line in order to protect his family, but his American wife, Alice, struggles to hide her
disgust for the Nazi leaders who come to dinner. As the war continues, the family moves from Prague to Rome, with members separating off one by one, until Alice makes a desperate decision to cross the border into Switzerland with her two daughters. Fifteen years after the war, on the verge of becoming a mother herself, Susie feels compelled to find out what really happened to her mother that pivotal night.
Told through the alternating viewpoints of Alice in 1941 and her daughter, Susie, in 1956, the novel focuses on the complicated roles of women, magnifying those roles with the caustic effects of war. “Wartime is woman’s time,” says Alice’s friend, Ersilia. In many ways she is right. Women must largely go it alone, finding freedoms they hadn’t had before and dealing with added burdens, too. Trinchieri deftly shows that balancing roles is difficult, as events affect Alice as a wife and conflict with her needs as an individual, resulting in unintended consequences for her children. Such complications are related evenly with the story showcasing the good, the bad, and the heartbreaking without passing narrative judgment. The characters do enough judging themselves.
This novel blends a deeply emotional story with an environment that is captivating in its danger and complexity. The pace builds slowly over time, until Alice and her daughters’ pulse-quickening attempt to escape over the border into Switzerland. Seeking Alice is a fully engaging story that doesn’t let go until the final page.
SUNY Press (Jun 1, 2016)
Softcover $19.95 (230pp)
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author provided free copies of his/her book to have his/her book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the author for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love and make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
In the Summer 2016 issue of Mystery Readers Journal, Camilla Crespi wrote an article called “The Trouble with New York City.”
From the first page of my first mystery — The Trouble with a Small Raise:
“It’s a very jagged city,” Fred said quietly.
“Very different from your soft Roman skyline.” He turned toward me, the stern look beginning to melt in the sunlight. “Are you sure you want to live here?”
“Yes,” I answered.
I was speaking for my character, Simona Griffo, but I was also speaking for myself. New York was my new adventure and my escape from a life in Rome that no longer made me happy. As the song says, I wanted to make a brand new start of it.
I have lived in many different cities and countries while growing up, thanks to my Italian diplomat father. Sense of place has always been very important to me. It grounds me. It took a few years for me to acclimatize to New York. I wandered the city, observing the diversity of the people, how the neighborhoods could change from wealthy to poor in a matter of a few blocks, how masses of people rushed out of the subways like ants running from danger, how thick with shoppers and foreigners Fifth Avenue was. How kind everyone was when I looked lost. Slowly the go-for-it, you-can-do-it , anything-is-possible spirit that is at the heart of the city sank in. When it did, it gave me the courage to start writing.
My boss in the advertising agency where I worked as an art buyer wouldn’t give me a raise, so I decided to take my revenge by killing him off in print. It gave me a chance to show my readers the backstabbing, the jealousies, and also the fun found in a successful New York advertising agency, predating Mad Men by quite a few years. Always I tried to give my readers a solid sense of place.
I followed The Trouble with a Small Raise with six more in the series. The second one, The Trouble with Moonlighting, ventured out in the streets of the city, starting at Lincoln Center, where Simona moonlights as dialogue coach for an Italian film crew, to Central Park West, Greenwich Village, Spanish Harlem, the Polish enclave of Greenpoint, and back to the advertising agency.
New York’s garment industry was an essential part of The Trouble with a Bad Fit. I spent countless hours at the Fashion Institute of Technology, reading up on the history of American fashion, on how garments are made. I spent two weeks in a showroom to see how dresses were sold. I had fun and at the end of the mystery I added fashion footnotes to show my readers what I had gleaned with my research.
I confess that I wasn’t always a faithful to my new city. Simona flew off to a Club Med for an advertising shoot in one novel. She flew home to Rome in another and took a vacation in East Hampton, which many New Yorkers consider just another city neighborhood.
I stopped writing the Simona series and began working hard on another New York story inspired by a scene I saw in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, a park made famous by Henry James. On a bench, a mother and two-year-old daughter were gazing at each other with palpable love. My mystery-loving mind looked at them and wondered “what if the child… ”.
The Price of Silence was published under my real name, Trinchieri, as it was a darker, more intense mystery. This time my protagonists move from a New York courthouse where Emma, the
main character is on trial for murder, to the Lower East Side where she teaches English as a second language to Columbia University and Morningside Heights where she lives.
I went back to a lighter, food-filled mystery with The Breakfast Club Murder, which was published last year. This time I added an
imaginary small town in Connecticut as my base, but Lori, the newly-divorced protagonist, happily comes to Little Italy to shop for the party she’s catering, and, with a possible new beau, goes to Greenwich Village to eat goat cheese ravioli in pancetta and shallot sauce at the three-star restaurant, Gotham Bar and Grill.
New York will always be part of my writing even if the setting is somewhere else. It will reside between the lines. New York is in my blood now. The city is a constant inspiration.
When I can’t come up with a idea for a new story, when no matter how hard I try to wake up my brain cells, my mind stays blank, I walk out into the city. I look, listen and learn. I think of New York City as an encyclopedia. I can open it to any street, and there’s a wealth of information waiting for me. It’s a city where anything can happen.
Camilla Trinchieri Crespi lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and her computer. Besides writing she loves cooking, painting and knitting. Her twelfth novel is Seeking Alice (June 2016), written under the name Trinchieri.
We’re very excited that Seeking Alice is now available in English. Three months before the print edition will be available, the ebook version is available online on Amazon – March 2016.
Click below to read more about it, and get the link to order your ebook copy.
Titolo: Verso domani
Autore: Camilla Trinchieri
Editore: Marcos y Marcos
Anno di pubblicazione: 2014
Prezzo copertina: 17,90 €
Recensione a cura di Alice Schiochet
L’ambientazione di questo romanzo si divide fra due città, New York , dove la giovane protagonista vive, e Lakeside, dove ha trascorso tutta il resto del tempo prima di trasferirsi. La vicenda narrata è molto toccante. Lenni, la protagonista, è una ragazza molto chiusa che preferisce stare da sola piuttosto che affezionarsi a qualcuno e rischiare così di dare a questa persona la possibilità di farle del male. La situazione muta radicalmente quando conosce Tracy, la quale diventa la sua migliore amica, e Billy, un ragazzo con il quale presto si fidanzerà.
Purtroppo la sua vita prende una svolta inaspettata quando Tracy viene trovata priva di vita; il referto è chiaro: la ragazza è stata assasinata. Da ulteriori indagini sembra scontato che Billy l’abbia uccisa per poi scappare con i soldi della ragazza. Lui però non potrà mai neanche tentare di difendersi perché durante l’inseguimento, setendosi braccato dalla polizia, ha concluso la sua sospetta fuga schiantandosi contro un muro e rimanendo ucciso. Da allora Lenni vive in uno stato di totale apatia, fino a quando spinta dai genitori si trasferisce a New York, dove le cose sembrano andare meglio, almeno fino a quando non compare Sam, il fratello di Billy, appena tornato dall’Iraq e deciso a riabilitare la memoria del fratello, provandone l’innocenza, e di conseguenza riaprire per Lenni una ferita che non si era mai chiusa del tutto. L’evolversi della vicenda infatti porterà entrambi i protagonisti ad affrontare un passato ingombrante, che rende loro impossibile vivere il proprio presente e pensare a un’eventuale futuro. Questo viaggio, effettuato a ritroso, ma soprattutto all’interno di se stessi, porterà sia Lenni che Billy a legarsi l’uno a all’altro e finalmente permetterà loro di pensare a un futuro migliore, appunto Verso domani.
Lo stile di scrittura si presenta lineare, piacevole e scorrevole. Molto interessante risulta l’analisi introspettiva di entrambi i protagonisti. La storia infatti viene narrata grazie ai pensieri di Lenni, a cui ben presto si aggiungono quelli di Sam. Il libro può essere consigliato ad un pubblico vasto, data la presenza di elementi molto diversi che l’autrice mescola in modo perfetto.
Presentazioni Camilla Trinchieri
Venerdì 9: Palermo.
Libreria Modusvivendi. Presenta Loredana di Modus. Ore 18:30
Domenica 18: Milano.
Giovedì 22: Lodi.
Caffè letterario della Biblioteca Laudense, inaugurato quel giorno, Ore 19. Organizza libreria Sommaruga.
Venerdì 23: Porto Sant’Elpidio.
Ore 21:30. Presenta Giovanna Taffetani.
Sabato 24: San Benedetto del Tronto.
Piceno d’autore. Organizza Mimmo Minuto, cena. Camilla e Claudia devono arrivare lì per cena.
Domenica 25: San Benedetto del Tronto.
Piceno d’autore. Ore 10, convegno sulla traduzione, ore 17 presentazione romanzo.
Verso domani, literally translated it would be Toward Tomorrow.