Love and War in the Apennines, Eric Newby

This isn’t really a travel book, but Newby’s standing as a travel writer is enough to justify its inclusion here. The author describes his amazing experiences during the Second World War after he escaped the clutches of his Italian guards in a PoW hospital and – aided by some brave locals – headed for the hills.

Newby does an excellent job of capturing the harshness of his winter up in the mountains, and sets it against the unsentimental care and kindness shown to him by so many Italian families. Of course not all he encountered wanted to help, and there are one or two close shaves. Above all, he reminds us constantly of the risks that his helpers were taking in keeping him clothed and fed.

Running throughout the book is an implausible, yet true, love story – the sort that you’d expect to read in a trashy novella, but told here with restraint and style; it barely encroaches on the exploits of Newby the soldier as he desperately tries to stay out of trouble and get back to safety.

It might not be a travel book, but it tells the story of one hell of a journey.

Overall verdict: Read it, and remember this isn’t fiction
Hodder & Stoughton, 1971

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