Book review: Wanderers No More by Michelle Saftich

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich, I am delighted to share my review of its sequel, Wanderers No More.

“The war may be over, but the fight to belong is just beginning.

Left homeless, starving, and almost killed by the Second World War, the Saforo family are refugees fleeing Italy for a better life. The shores of Australia are calling to them and they head off, packing dreams of jobs, a home and … soccer.

But from the moment they get off the boat, adapting to the Australian way of life is harder than

it seems. Their family doesn’t speak right, eat right or even look right. As they struggle to build a simple life against the backdrop of 1950s racism, they start to wonder if they will be outsiders forever.

A true family affair, Wanderers No More will make you laugh, remind you of your family, and warm your heart.”

My thoughts:

Stories of migrant refugees form an important part of the fabric of Australian, and indeed global society, as many many millions of us have been or are refugees, refugees of war, oppression, famine or environmental catastrophe. Port of No Return describes how a small group of families from northern Italy become refugees in World War II, and in Wanderers No More, Saftich portrays the everyday life for these families from the moment they set foot in Australia. The novels fall into the genre of family history memoir, as they are based on true events and real people.

Wanderers No More is an endearing coming of age story sure to put a smile on every reader’s face. Told mostly through the eyes of young Martino Saforo, who arrives with his family in Newcastle after spending four years in various refugee camps in Europe, the novel engages from the first page. The early part of the novel describes the harsh life for European migrants sent to government-run labour camps where they are bonded for two years, the men working on infrastructure projects, including the Snowy River hydro-electricity scheme, mining and roadbuilding. Or on farms slashing sugar cane and the lucky ones in factories. Accommodation was Nissan hut style.

Wanderers No More centres on the trials and tribulations of Martino, his brothers and their friends. The women in the story, the sisters and the mothers, have lesser roles which are not developed but provide texture nevertheless. The cameo role of Martino’s ever-present Nonna represents not only the female element, but Italy itself, with all of its traditions. Through Nonna and Martino, Saftich depicts the homesickness, the coping skills, the resilience and the determination to learn Australian ways and language with enormous sensitivity and insight. Simple acts of kindness are juxtaposed with relentless ethnocentric bullying, mostly in the schoolyard. For Martino, Australia seems a harsh and unforgiving land filled with harsh and unforgiving people. Yet hope is ever present, as is Martino’s passion for soccer, which consumes much of the narrative as the novel progresses. Tragedy is ever present, a ghost at first haunting between the lines, and when it finally manifests, it strikes hard.

Throughout the novel which spans two decades, Saftich deploys emotional restraint, the narrative voice commensurate with the heart and mind of a young boy finding his way, a boy who grows up lost, confused, alienated and hurting in so many ways. Anyone familiar with This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff will understand the narrative approach. With its easy, engaging style, and themes of migration, alienation and belonging, this novel belongs on the set text lists in Australian schools.

Buy this book

Catch up with the author here

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Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich

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There are stories that need to be told, stories sidelined, destined to languish on the periphery of our knowledge of history, stories eclipsed by bigger, more sensational stories. Until an author like Michelle Saftich comes along.

Port of No Return is a work of historical fiction, set at the end of WWII, which tracks the stories of four families as they flee their war-ravaged city of Fuime, Northern Italy, for the refugee camps in nearby Trieste, as communist Yugoslavia, under the command of General Tito, claims ownership.

Saftich leads the reader by the hand into the intimate domestic lives of Contessa and Lena and Bianca, and Ettore, Edrico and Roberto, with all of their children, and of course Nonna. Their homes are bombed, their lives under threat. When Fuime was under German occupation, many locals were required to work in the arms factories. The Partisans created lists of the traitors. When they seized control, those men were rounded up and shot, or imprisoned and tortured, and then shot. It’s a familiar story. I’m easily reminded of current times in Syria and Iraq. And to that end alone, this book is an important read.

And as we face a refugee crisis second only to World War II, in Port of No Return Saftich depicts the struggles of millions of refugees displaced across Europe and the challenges they faced finding a place, any place, to live.

The hunger, the awful conditions, and the waiting, endless waiting, are portrayed through the eyes of the characters as they scratch out a day to day existence. It is a story in which hope and despair vie for supremacy.

Saftich portrays her characters with sympathy and sensitivity in confident, down-to-earth prose. The narrative is well-crafted and well-researched. Port of No Return is a story of survival, of hope, of the tenacity of those Italian families determined to have a future. And through it Saftich opens our hearts to compassion, a commendable feat.

ODYSSEY BOOKS, 2015

Featuring Michelle Saftich

Today I’m in conversation with Michelle Saftich, author of the acclaimed novel Port of No Return (Odyssey Books, 2015), a work of historical fiction I reviewed earlier this year.

 

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Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia. I have also spent time living in Sydney and Osaka, Japan. What I love most about each city – I love Brisbane’s warm weather, Sydney’s harbour and Osaka’s food!

So, where are you now?

I am still in Brisbane, living with my husband, who is an accomplished musician and singer/songwriter and who helped to edit the first drafts of my book, and my two school-aged sons; not to mention my demanding black cat!

When you you decide you wanted to be a writer?

By the age of six, I knew I wanted to be a published author and that dream never wavered. As soon as I could read, I fell in love with books and wanted to write them.

My grandmother is a playwright and I have always felt a connection with her. As a young girl, I would sneak into her writing area, ogling her huge, heavy typewriter, scanning all her press clippings about her plays and I longed to have such a space of my own. I can recall sitting on her lap at age nine, reading to her an eight-page story I had written, just for fun.

Authors love books. What are some of your favourites?

I have read broadly, exploring a range of genres and authors. As a younger reader, I loved historical fiction and romance. I treasure such books as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Jane Austen novels and I loved Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I have enjoyed biographical novels about Marie Antoinette and early writers such as Mary Shelley. I like stories about strong, inspiring women and works that inform and educate as well as entertain.

What inspired you to write port of no return?

I was greatly moved my grandparents’ true story of having to flee their Italian town, with their children, at the end of World War II. At that time, their city, Fiume, a beautiful portside city, was taken and absorbed into Yugoslavia – lost to Italy forever.

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In May, 1945, Yugoslav Partisans came down the hills into the city of Fiume and began rounding up those Italians, known to have worked with the Germans during the war, and executing them.

My father, a great oral storyteller, had told my sister and I a few snippets of his parents’ plight. He was fond of telling how his mother had stood up to the Yugoslav Partisans when they had come knocking on their door, seeking to arrest and kill her husband. She had shown great bravery in telling them that her husband had left her for another woman, and was not at home.

Inspired by these family tales, I decided to do some research about the city and came across a startling post-World War II conflict. Hundreds of thousands of Italians fled the region as the Yugoslav Army moved in, leaving behind their homes, their livelihoods, their friends.

I decided to write about their experiences.

How long did it take you to write?

It took two years to write. I talked to other Italians who had fled Fiume – ones who could remember being shot at trying to cross the town border to escape, ones who could recall the Partisans coming down the hills.

I have tried to capture their fear, their loss, their desperation – while informing readers of this little known conflict that affected so many.

Personally, it has been wonderful to write about and record my family heritage, while giving the people of this region a voice. I have felt honoured to tell their story and have loved every word of it.

There’s a whisper of a sequel. To find out why, read Port of No Return, and, like me, you’ll be left wanting more.

You can find Port of No Return at Odyssey Books

at Amazon and all good booksellers.

Meanwhile, here’s how you can connect with Michelle:

Website https://michellesaftich.com/

Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/msaftich/?fref=ts

Twitter  @MichelleSaftich

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26102499-port-of-no-return