When Pina Palma, professor of Italian, and a colleague in Australia began talking a few years about an idea for a book on war narratives, they had no idea that the topic of war would be so relevant when the book would eventually be published. “War is what humanity seems to have a propensity for,” says Palma, as she discusses the book, A Century of Italian War Narratives: Voices from the Sidelines (Brill), which she co-edited with Luigi Gussago. The book includes 10 essays from international scholars; Palma also contributed an essay to the collection.
“This was a different kind of exercise for me,” says Palma, whose previous book was Savoring Power, Consuming the Times: The Metaphors of Food in Medieval and Renaissance Italian Literature (University of Notre Dame Press). Based on that book, Palma was chosen by the Faculty Scholar Award Committee as the recipient of the 2016 award.
For this new book, published earlier this year, Palma served as co-editor, and her work on such a volume was a new experience for her, says Palma. She was dealing continuously with authors whose language was Italian, on top of writing her own piece for the collection.
The idea for the book grew out of a panel that Palma and Gussago participated in a few years ago, pre-COVID. The topic of the panel was war narratives, and the two colleagues began to discuss taking the topic further and eventually decided to do the book. They put out a call for submissions and received more proposals than they could include in one volume.
“We looked for topics that were different,” says Palma. “There were stories we were immediately taken with, such as that of a man who wrote on cigarette wrappers because of the lack of available writing paper.” Palma and Gussago were looking for voices of those on the fringes, she says. “These names that have been long forgotten or ignored — we felt we were bringing them back to life.”
Palma’s essay on Ada Gobetti exemplifies the goals of the project. Gobetti (1902-1968) was an underground leader in the Italian resistance movement who, with her partisan group, liberated Turin in April 1945 while the Allies were trying to reach the city. Through her work she aimed to expose, challenge, and dismantle the totalitarian system that the Nazi-Fascists put in place in Northern Italy. Gobetti initiated the beginning of the women’s movement within the anti-fascist movement, says Palma. “She was the one who went out and encouraged a group of women to get more involved in the resistance – with the group she led, she was able to liberate Turin.”
Gobetti’s is the kind of story this volume brings out, Palma says. Another person discussed in the book was telling the stories about a dictatorship through cartoons. Talking about war by looking at identity, moral dilemmas, fighting through nonviolence, fighting through cartoons – these are not the ways historians typically treat war, Palma says, adding that the different kinds of perspectives portrayed in the book made the project more interesting to the publisher.
“Publishers were immediately interested in the project and got back to us within 24 hours,” she says.
Since its publication, the book has received praise. One reader wrote, “ [This] is an important and original work… It has a wide appeal that crosses several disciplines, including literatures beyond the boundaries of Italy, history, and philosophy. Moreover, its subject matter makes it suitable for the nonacademic audience as well.”
Palma earned her Ph.D. at Yale University and is a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.