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The Neppi Modona Diaries
Reading Jewish Survival through My Italian Family
Kate Cohen

Not in stock or not yet published
Expected: January 1997

Dartmouth College Press
1997 • 284 pp. 11 illus. 6 x 9"
Jewish Studies / Biography / 20th Century History / European History

$35.00 Hardcover, 978-0-87451-783-5

"Cohen has integrated primary and secondary sources into a fascinating portrait of a family, a nation and an era that is not only an informative historical text but also a great read. The Neppi Modonas were relatives of Cohen's father who she visited in Florence for brief periods beginning when she was 12 . . . Cohen also explores the meaning of Judaism in Italy in general, including a charming account of the year she and her sister attended Rosh Hashanah services in Florence." —Publishers Weekly

A polyvocal memoir chronicling the experiences of one Jewish family in fascist Italy, as reconstructed from diaries and interviews by a young cousin.

This fascinating tapestry of four interwoven voices documents the experiences of each member of an Italian Jewish family during World War II. Kate Cohen, a distant relative, masterfully juxtaposes the memoirs of Aldo, the Neppi Modona patriarch, his son Leo's "fictionalized" account, and the oral histories of the mother, Rachel, and the daughter, Lionella. The result is both rich and revealing, an account of a perilous and disturbing period that also illuminates how each individual lived a different war and kept conflicting memories of it.

An academic by profession, Aldo is also a member of the Fascist Party at the time his memoir begins. Cohen seeks to unravel this seeming paradox and finds that for Jews in Italy, who by the end of the First World War had experienced several generations of freedom and prosperity, Fascism was a way to express love for the Fatherland and opposition to the Bolshevik upheaval. But Aldo's nationalist loyalty cannot ward off the anti-Semitism that follows with terrifying speed Mussolini's alliance with Hitler. The family's initial recollections of the heartache created by the "racial laws" soon expand from discrimination and suppression into real hardships: displacement, deprivation, bombings, blackouts, rationing, to hiding for their lives during the German occupation. The polyphonic voice of the narrative communicates with wrenching vividness the Neppi Modonas' pain and strength, and at the same time, through Cohen's mediating consciousness, provides insights into being a Jew in a post-Holocaust world.

From the Book:

"But didn't I know I was Jewish, and didn't you know and didn't everyone know? And if I have had the honor of fighting at your side wasn't I also subject to the same duties, with the obligation to fulfill them scrupulously just like you? . . . So think whether my enthusiasm for the Fascist movement was sincere, the movement that gave us liberty again, that made our hearts beat anew with passion and pride, that made spiritual values honorable!

"Deep within himself, each one asked question upon question, and felt a discomfort inside, an agony he had never felt; it seemed like an awakening from a lethargy. But then was it all a trick, bad faith to call us Italians, an ongoing fiction since birth -- parents, relatives, everyone complicit?"

-- from the writings of Aldo Neppi Modona: classical scholar, WWI veteran, early member of the Fascist party, and a Jew

KATE COHEN is a freelance writer and editor.

Thu, 7 Feb 2013 10:16:26 -0500