Once again Eleonora Davide pleasantly surprises us with a new historical novel. If in The Norman the author led us into the fascinating and equally intriguing medieval world, and precisely in Irpinia disputed and divided between Normans and Lombards, in The Flower of Karst her attention focuses on the Friuli Venezia Giulia region and on its border areas.
In Italy, a country torn apart by two world wars, by the Nazi occupation, but also by the consequent intense aerial bombardments of the Anglo-American allied forces, come to the rescue to prevent the whole of Europe and the rest of the world from being conquered and Germanized by Hitler and eventually annexed to the Third Reich, all suffered heavy losses. The border peoples, however, and with no doubt, were the ones who paid the highest price. Despite the alternation of events of all kinds, dramatic in the first place, and the presence of numerous characters, each of whom occupies a prominent place in the narrative, the fundamental theme and true protagonist of this beautiful literary work is the delicate issue of the ethnic groups of the frontier areas.
Fascists and Nazis who believed in the ideal of a new great empire which, through the terrible racial laws, would be ‘cleansed’ of all ethnic and other ‘impurity’; Communists, Italians and of Tito’s Yugoslavia; partisans who opposed these ideals with all their means; armed forces and secret services that, within the scope of their competences, tried to maintain order and to control the various activities, legal and/or illegal, which were carried out mainly in the border areas, all played an extremely important role in the evolution of events. Discontent, tensions, doubts, fears, distrust towards everything and everyone were all responsible for the further and useless bloodshed and loss of innocent lives.
And so, while the Naples of the postwar years opened to progress and to the prospect of a brighter future that promised the long-awaited economic well-being, Trieste, the beautiful, fascinating, and distinguished Habsburg city kept crying.
The 1920 Treaty of Rapallo which saw the city definitively transitioning to Italy had not solved any problem, but rather made the situation worse: that is, one that has always seen the border peoples find themselves ‘on the other side’ or even on the side ‘wrong’ because of agreements that are stipulated at the end of a war and by which the territorial borders are redefined between the various governments, forcing the inhabitants of these areas to relocate in order not to risk losing their national identity, their own roots, their own traditions. Although some of the most daring may decide to desert during the war in order not to risk finding themselves fighting against those whom they consider their full-fledged ‘brothers’ or opt “to change their lives and put past experiences behind them” (David, 2020, p. 23), the wounds remain.
Nature, fully experienced by Davide, the main character of this novel, through his speleological excursions, offers its great charm everywhere, but even if caves and cavities at the bottom are all alike and equally fascinate, those of the Karst hide a painful secret: they were used for massacres committed against both military and indigenous Italian civilians, of Venezia Giulia, Quarnaro, and Dalmatia, during the Second World War and in the immediate post-war period by the Yugoslav partisans and the OZNA, the Department for People’s Protection, belonging to the Yugoslav military intelligence services.
Despite having to sadly acknowledge that through the Alabarda Plan, in the event that the USSR would have occupied the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, Trieste would have also be abandoned to its fate and lost forever because the Italian Government would have not moved a finger in order to avoid further wars, the greatest sufferance was felt by the inhabitants of Istria, whose thought is summarized by Fioretta Filippaz, a refugee, through her own words: “Today, as back then, bitterness and regret are still there for my heart has been longing for that land I kept searching in vain without ever finding its very essence to soothe the pain of that abandonment.” (Davide, 2020, p. 351 – cit.)
Despite the gravity of the events mentioned in this story, The Flower of Karst is also, in its deepest essence, a novel written with the heart and much love: the love for one’s own family, for one’s own land, for one’s own roots, for those universal values that make Life worth living and appreciated … and in which, between typical recipes from Campania and Istria and landscapes that warm the soul, Life goes on while people keep falling in love and getting lost in the eyes of the other dreaming of paradise.