It’s a dangerous time to be a dissident…
1938. Northern Italy. Since saving Angelo Grimani’s life 18 years earlier, Katharina is grappling with how their lives have since been entwined. Construction on the Reschen Lake reservoir begins and the Reschen Valley community is torn apart into two fronts – those who want to stay no matter what comes, and those who hold out hope that Hitler will bring Tyrol back into the fold.
Back in Bolzano, Angelo finds one fascist politician who may have the power to help Katharina and her community, but there is a group of corrupt players eager to have a piece of him. When they realise that Angelo and Katharina are joining forces, they turn to a strategy of conquering and dividing to weaken both the community and Angelo’s efforts.
Meanwhile, the daughter Angelo shares with Katharina – Annamarie – has fled to Austria to pursue her acting career but the past she is running away from lands her directly into the arms of a new adversary: the Nazis. She goes as far as Berlin, and as far as Goebbels, to pursue her dreams, only to realise that Germany is darker than any place she’s been before.
Angelo puts aside his prejudices and seeks alliances with old enemies; Katharina finds ingenious ways to preserve what is left of her community, and Annamarie wrests herself from the black forces of Nazism with plans to return home. But when Hitler and Mussolini present the Tyroleans with “The Option”, the residents are forced to choose between Italian and German nationhood with no guarantee that they will be able to stay in Tyrol at all!
Out of the ruins of war, will they be able to find their way back to one another and pick up the pieces?
This blockbuster finale will keep readers glued to the pages. Early readers are calling it, “…engrossing”, “…enlightening” and “…both a heartbreaking and uplifting end to this incredible series!”
Here is an extract from this absorbing book.
Bolzano, November 1938
The maître d’ showed them to a corner lounge in the bar, and Angelo ordered two coffees with Strega and instructed the waiter to put them on his tab.
Mastromattei crossed his legs and seemed to finally relax. “Tell me how this Reschen Valley project is coming along, Angelo.”
Unsure whether the question was just polite chitchat or whether this was the magistrate’s agenda, Angelo started with the simple facts. “The electrical society has given MFE permission to dam up the Reschen and Graun Lakes—”
“Is the Colonel still running things with that group?”
Angelo confirmed he was, sensing that Mastromattei was smirking inwardly.
“There will be a smaller inflow into Haider Lake,” Angelo added, his way of sharing how he had prevented the third lake from being integrated into the general reservoir.
“How much power is this project going to bring?”
Of course Mastromattei would be interested. It was the electricity they needed for the industrial zone. “Over thirty-three thousand kilowatts to the first plant in Sluderno.”
“We’re going to need that power,” Mastromattei said.
Their coffee arrived, and the magistrate beckoned the waiter to him and whispered something into his ear. The waiter nodded and hurried away towards the main lobby.
Angelo picked up where they’d left off. “Plans are to finish expropriating all the necessary land by next spring.”
Mastromattei leaned forward to stir the whipped cream on his coffee. It curdled beneath the alcohol.
“Germany is gearing up for war,” he said. “They’re shitting on the Versailles Treaty. Ciano says that Britain has proven too weak with the infighting taking place in parliament. They and France could have put a stop to Germany’s sufferings years ago. Instead, together with the United States, they are now trying to outbid each other on who can sell the most aeroplane engines and parts to the one country determined to win back its former glory.” Mastromattei gazed at Angelo, his spoon tapping on the rim of the glass. “Hitler’s army will require bodies. Soldiers. And they will pull Italy into this.”
Mastromattei made a regretful noise before taking another drink. “The Nazis will try to recruit the Tyroleans northwards first. We must crush those organizing against us if we’re to net our most valuable commodity.”
“White gold,” Angelo muttered. It was the new term. Italy, poor in natural resources such as oil and metal, had gained, with the annexation of South Tyrol, the one thing that other countries needed, namely energy. Energy that came from the province’s alpine rivers and lakes.
Mastromattei looked appreciatively at Angelo. “Yes, white gold and our citizens.”
Angelo leaned forward, his coffee still untouched. “What are you suggesting?”
Mastromattei suddenly looked up. “Ah! There you are.”
It was the waiter. He held out a newspaper to Mastromattei, who then gave the waiter a few coins. “Good man.”
He placed the copy of the day’s Archivio per l’Alto Adige on the table. “Angelo, what do you think about the Libyan resettlement project?”
Angelo’s pulse quickened. “The one that Tolomei says we should all celebrate?” He pictured the distinguished and arrogant senator, the self-proclaimed designer of the Italianisation programme. “His plan is to transplant twenty thousand settlers to our colony in North Africa.”
“We’ve taken many Italians from the south into Bolzano, as many as we can accommodate,” Mastromattei said. “The new settlement will take another year before we can move anyone in, and we’ll be planning another one right afterward. But what Tolomei and his other hardliners have failed to see is the opportunity to have integration work the other way around.” Mastromattei rubbed his chin. “You are still mediating the expropriated lands and the restitutions for the Reschen Valley population, right?”
Angelo picked up his coffee, pushed the whipped cream aside with the spoon, and took a long sip. The Strega warmed him. He nodded. “Problem is the veterans’ administration is stalling with their offers.”
“As is MFE.”
To avoid scoffing, Angelo took another long drink before answering. “There’s not enough land to relocate the hundreds of families. They can’t very well make their living off the side of a mountain slope.”
“I have a solution,” Mastromattei said. “You know the twelve hamlets I allotted between Bolzano and Merano—”
“The Italian settlements. Are they proving prosperous?”
“They’re doing well, yes,” the magistrate said. “Yet our esteemed senator claims the borderlands are still—after almost twenty years—tenuous at best.”
Because, Angelo thought, the people living there are not self-evidently Italian.
“What is the goal of Italianisation?” Mastromattei propped his elbow on the arm of his chair and leaned his temple against his index finger. His square chin rested on his thumb.
Angelo played along. “Italianisation means integrating the two cultures so that we can’t tell who is who. Especially those living in the community. It might take a couple of generations, but soon enough they’ll all feel Italian.”
“Exactly. This reservoir is massive. If we push the citizens—Italian citizens!—off their land and north into Hitler’s arms, we’ll be losing a lot to the efforts I have taken great pains to establish here. Our economic base. Our productivity.” He pointed to the wall behind him—the direction of the industrial zone beyond. “We’ll lose the consumers for those goods we’re producing over there.”
Angelo’s skin prickled. By God, for a price the Tyroleans and he could finally move forward. “You’re suggesting moving the locals out of their valley and into the new hamlets south. If the restitution is fair—”
“They’ll find any expropriation unfair.” Mastromattei looked amused. “I want them all out. All of them. As far south of the border as possible.”
Angelo winced inside. “And if they don’t want to go? What other choices can we offer them?”
Mastromattei’s look darted to the newspaper between them. He released his index finger from his temple and pointed at it, the amusement gone. “They’re Italian citizens. We could resettle them to Libya.”
He couldn’t be serious. “That’s an…extreme move. Can we not explore all our alternatives before we do that?”
Mastromattei leaned back in the plush chair, the leather creaking beneath him. “Then call a meeting with everyone involved.”
Now they were onto something. Open discussions. “Good. It will take some time to get the representatives from the Reschen Valley—”
“No. Call a meeting with your father’s company, the electrical society, and the veterans’ administration. The people in the Reschen Valley will get offers for their land and get instructions for resettlement after the stakeholders agree on a procedure. There is no need to involve the population in this yet. It’s only one idea of how we could proceed, correct?”
“Surely the residents could stay in the valley if they choose to. All they want is a fair offer. What is the worst they can do? Tie us up in legal battles?” Angelo laughed drily. “There isn’t a lawyer around who would take up that fight.”
Mastromattei leaned forward, eyes narrowed. “There is no court in the nation that would accept the case.” He slapped his thigh and straightened. “They can do what they want. But perhaps you should inform them of the consequences. These days Rome is coming down hard on those who revolt.” He drained his glass and stood. “I’d prefer to save those bullets for the war we’ll be dragged into and not defending ourselves against a bunch of farmers who still haven’t accepted the fact that they are Italians first.”
Find out more about the author here-
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger is an American author living in Austria. Her focus is on historical fiction. She has been a managing editor for a magazine publishing house, has worked as an editor, and has won several awards for her travel narrative, flash fiction and short stories. She lives with her husband in a “Grizzly Adams” hut in the Alps, just as she’d always dreamt she would when she was a child.
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