The author chatted to us about her book Under the Light of the Italian Moon.
Hi Jennifer, could you explain a bit more about what Under the Light of the Italian Moon is about? Under the Light of the Italian Moon a story of love and women’s resilience during the rise of fascism and WWII. It tells the story of Nina Argenta, the daughter of a strong-willed midwife, who falls in love with Pietro Pante, a boy from Fonzaso who emigrates to the coal mines of America. Over the years as Mussolini’s power grows, Nina helps her mother support the women of Fonzaso. When WWII begins, Nina loses touch with Pietro and must try to survive with her family under Nazi occupation and atrocities that worsen as the war goes on with the hope of being reunited with her beloved.
The book therefore is a love story, between Nina and Pietro while also being a tribute to women, particularly rural women and midwives living through WWI, the rise of fascism and how women held together their families and helped each other during Nazi occupation. These women were really unsung heroes, silenced by history and it is my mission not to let that happen.
What made you want to tell this story? When I was in high school and we learned about WWII, from the American POV. Italy wasn’t mentioned much. I went to my grandmother and asked her if WWII impacted her, only then did I find out that the Nazi’s occupied her small town and about the Nazi atrocities that took place there. I didn’t follow up on it because – I was a teenager but in 2006, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I decided to buy a notebook and record all the questions I had for my grandmother. Unfortunately, after my baby shower, she went by ambulance to the hospital and stayed there, I then gave birth via an emergency c-section and went into heart failure with a deadly heart condition and while I was recovering, my grandmother died. This microcosm of womanhood, motherhood, my mom losing hers, my mom becoming a nonna, me becoming a mother – all within a two-week period was a real epiphany for me. I became committed to learning about my grandmother’s life as well as her mother and my great great grandmother in Italy. Eventually, I acquired Italian citizenship and moved abroad. I spent my spare time and vacations interviewing Italians in the US, Canada and Italy who lived through the period and could tell me stories about my family.
It’s incredible how much research in 14 years you must have done. Did you enjoy that aspect of it to put the story together? I loved every aspect of the research. Much of it was done with my daughter by my side as she grew while we visited elderly Italians in Italy and the U.S. While collecting all of the stories, I was also reading a lot to understand the period and connect the dots. Books like Victoria de Grazia’s How Fascism Ruled Women, Richard Bosworth’s books on Mussolini, Perry Willson’s book on the Massaie Rurali and Richard Lamb’s book on the Brutal War in Italy. Works by academics like Jennifer Kosmin, who studied the history of midwifing in Italy were also helpful. I also read a lot of Bassani, Moravia and Robin Pickering Iazzi’s translations of Unspeakable women among other sources. Watching movies like Two Women with Sophia Loren or Melana with Monica Bellucci was another way I transported myself to this time and place. By laying the stories of my family on top of the significant secondary research I did, I finally finished my novel, Under the Light of the Italian Moon.
How did you feel about writing a story that was inspired by your own family history? It was as if my grandmother never really left me. I felt as though the women in my family were forcing me forward to complete the work. After fourteen years, after losing my grandmother and becoming a mother myself, I have finally answered the questions I had for her. The book has helped confirm who I am and who I want to be, and I was able to bring my grandmother back to Italy. If I can help other women realise their strength by recognising it in the women who came before us, my life will be worthwhile.
What do you hope that readers will take away from the novel? I hope that those who read it will recognise the strength of women and that women will realise their own power. I also hope we can force some conversations about the need for women at the tops of organisations and governments which will provide diversity in thinking and lead the world to a better place. I also hope it makes them want to speak with their mothers about what they were like when they were young and look into their own history.
What is next in store for you? I’ve started a second book based on a minor character in Under the Light of the Italian Moon. After that, I’d like to write a book where the original characters return to Fonzaso. In the meantime, I’m continuing to spread the word about the strength of women discussing with various book clubs and organizations.
Jennifer Anton is an American/Italian dual citizen born in Joliet, Illinois and now lives between London and Lake Como, Italy. A proud advocate for women’s rights and equality, she hopes to rescue women’s stories from history, starting with her Italian family. Preorder the novel on Amazon, Connect with Jennifer on Instagram http://www.instagram.com/boldwomanwriting Download an excerpt at http://www.boldwomanwriting.com. She is also hosting a free virtual event with Royal Kensington and Chelsea Libraries on the 29th March. Register for free here.
By Emma Clarendon