This book is part history, part mystery, and part love story, and it is riveting! I love reading about WW2, spies, and real love stories during the war, and this book hit the spot for me in terms of it being a great balance between deeply researched fact and personal interest.
I really like to read about areas of WW2 that people rarely talk about. My step grandfather was part of the Free Polish Army that fought against the Germans at Monte Cassino (after having spent time incarcerated in Siberia and being released when Germany invaded the Soviet Union), so I found it interesting to read about how the Allies made their way up the boot well before the D-Day landings in France, as we don’t see it documented as much. Because the Italians spent a lot of time as part of the Axis we tend to dismiss them as being the “enemy” during WW2 when it is in no shape or form that simple. I love how Monopoli Blues sheds a lot of light on Italy and the Italians during the later years of the war.
Tim Clark’s father and mother met each other while they were both working for SOE (Special Operations Executive) in Italy during WW2. Marjorie was a radio operator, and Bob (Lt Bob Clark) spent his time going back and forth between Allied-held and German-held areas on different missions (retrieving POWs, sabotage missions, reconnaissance, etc). Both were based in Monopoli (hence the title of the story), and married on their return from the war.
Tim Clark was always interested in his father’s time during the war, but Bob remained tight-lipped about it during his life, only giving away few insights here and there. After he died Tim took it upon himself to discover the entire story, which ended up becoming 5 years of research, trips to Italy with and without his mother, and this book, Monopoli Blues, that he co-authored with journalist Nick Cook.
Monopoli Blues is heavy on the detail, and Tim Clark leaves no stone unturned. I appreciated this immensely because it provided so much insight into SOE and what type of work they were doing in Italy at the time. It also helps us understand how Bob ends up landing behind enemy lines, and being captured. Bob ends up spending 6 months in a Nazi held prison, and then a prison camp, before being liberated and reunited with Marjorie.
I can understand why both Bob and Marjorie (or as Tim affectionately calls them, Pop and Mop), would want to forget and put their wartime experiences behind them. I can also completely understand why Tim would want to find out the truth, because it is fascinating. It just makes me think about how many stories there are that have possibly died untold with those who lived them, and that makes me so sad. I suppose this is why I continue to write in my journals, because maybe, one day, they will be useful to someone. Who knows…
In any case, the amount of research and work and most likely tears that it must have taken to write this book is incredible. A great read for those who like to read about WW2, who also like a good mystery, and who don’t mind getting deep into the details of SOE work near and behind enemy lines.
(As a side note I recently refused to continue a book on a similar topic, where the author ham-handedly wrote a phrase stating that “most of the French collaborated with the Germans”. Having grown up in Maquis land, I know all too well how false and offensive that statement is. It was a breath of fresh air to read Monopoli Blues where the author shines a light on the difficulties of surviving in a country occupied by a brutal invader).
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the copy of this book!