Professor Carmine Vittoria wrote this book in the belief that the full story of WWII and its impact on Italy, specifically that of Naples, has never been told. Through meticulous research, interviews that he conducted and his own personal recollections, the author sheds light on the events. It has only been with the passage of time that declassified documents permit the piecing together of actions that can be measured against the stories that were reported and the historical record that is now accepted as truth.
The author mentions an old Neapolitan saying which roughly translates as “With little truth, sometimes it may be possible to hide the big lie.” He references the following, “The little truth, in the Mediterranean campaign of the Allied Armies, was that the island of Sardinia was at the limit of air coverage from Sicily. The big lie was that the island was occupied by German troops. In truth, German troops left in early September, 1943. Had the Allies invaded the island of Sardinia it would have shortened the war, minimized American casualties, trapped the entire German Army south of Rome, negated the need for the Salerno, Anzio and Cassino catastrophes and reduced the suffering and misery in southern Italy.”
There have been thousands of books written about the Second World War. Why did Professor Vittoria write this book of non-fiction? To put it plainly, he was there. His family lived in Avella, which sits at a critical junction point on the slopes of the Apennine Mountains, near Naples. Every student of history knows that it is the victors whose slant on the truth becomes the historical record of events. Even though the author was a young child when the war raged around him and his family, he could never reconcile what he saw and later remembered, with what was written and recorded as the “truth.” “Bitter Chicory to Sweet Espresso” provides a narrative from the perspective of those uniquely affected by the war – the residents of the occupied area. From a historical prospective, the town of Avella has been invaded by countless armies over the course of thousands of years. During WWII, it was occupied by the Nazis, who later were tried for atrocities of war that they committed and also by allies, who as victors, sustained no such recriminations for their actions while occupying the town.
Books about WWII typically deal with the planning and execution of battle tactics and were written from the viewpoint of everyone from the General Officer on down to the GI. But the question remained, what of the people who found that war had quite literally come to their doorstep? Professor Vittoria found that little insight was provided about the people who found themselves caught in the middle of the famous battles. “Bitter Chicory to Sweet Espresso” provides a unique balance between the plans and execution of war and its view through the eyes of those who found themselves “in the way.”
The events of the Second World War in the Campania region and area around Naples are recounted, both from the eyes of a child and contrasted with those of his older family members. The difference in the points of view is striking and it is only with the passage of time that a reconciliation of the two was possible. Within that broad and life-consuming environment, the absurdity of war on one hand is juxtaposed against the preservation of faith in the church, as well as seeking economic recovery and stability. There is a recognition, of course, of the direct damages wrought, but also the unexpected forms of collateral damage that did not necessarily show its insidious nature until years later.
The book places the reader front and center, beginning with the lives of the family before the conflict began. It was an unbroken line of shepherds, whose traditions never wavered, but whose lives were periodically impacted by invaders, none more so than during WWII. The stories are gripping and the characters vivid. Roughly half the book deals with the events of the war, while the second half covers the immediate post-war period and the family’s move to the United States. Remarkably well-researched and expertly written, the 309 page book provides a much different perspective on the war than anything a reader is likely to have experienced before. The last line of the book is perhaps the finest summary of all – “We Neapolitans have survived another day.”
About the Author
Carmine Vittoria received his Ph.D. in applied quantum physics from Yale University and worked as a physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory with specialties in microwave magnetics structures. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Northeastern University, where he established a world class research laboratory in the development of new microwave materials. Professor Vittoria has more than 300 publications in major journals and is the holder of more than 20 patents. “Bitter Chicory to Sweet Espresso” is his first non-scientific book and is available from Amazon.