Risking it all: Leaving Italy to live in Africa in the 1950s. I was born Maria Martore in 1934. But I have been renamed Iucci by my husband, Eugenio Piergiovanni. He is thirteen years my senior and is fluent in three languages. We have left Italy and the only family I have ever known, to go to Africa, seeking adventures and fortune. Is my husband's dream of selling Italian Haute Couture to expatriates ridiculous? Ciao! WE’RE IN AFRICA recounts the story of Marisa Parker’s Italian parents, who in 1955, emigrate to Salisbury in Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Africa. They open a fashion shop selling exquisite imported Italian clothes. However, it is Eugenio’s charm and astute business sense, and Iucci’s good looks and sincerity, that draws them into the community’s inner circles.
Innovator, Inventor, Forerunner: these are ‘pioneer’ synonyms which I’d associate with both my parents and the themes in my books. My father attracted people to him—the honey to buzzing bees—despite his modest 5.5 height. During his WW2 years in the POW camp, he had his dark moments, but he also pushed boundaries. When he was discharged, he had become the official translator for management having learnt two languages and, he was also equipped with skills in running the POW camp supply store and stock taking. And my mother? Well, despite not speaking a word of English and not having previously owned a passport, she determinedly accompanied the man of her dreams as they set out from Italy bound for Southern Africa in 1955. Was she scared? She was terrified! Did she enjoy every moment of the next five years whilst creating a successful fashion business and starting a family? No … but during all challenging situations whether you are an innovator, inventor or forerunner, there is that sense of purpose and an overwhelming sense of achievement in each victory. Don’t sit back; create and take control of your future!
My father loved challenging the status quo. If he was alive today, he’d be one of the first to have the new Apple iPhone 11 Pro in his reverent hands. Space travel? Sign him up. I think you get the picture … for him, he never let a ‘What if?’ opportunity pass him by. Yet, for all his constant (global) travel and search for new things—the first one to try/buy—his heart lay in Rhodesia, Africa. I think that when something happens in our formative (teenage) years, it can drive several decisions later on in life. His connection with Africa—where he was incarcerated and saw his 21st birthday—through a South African POW camp from 1942-46 was profound. So much so, that despite many dark days during that time, something bound him to that primal continent. In the face of many naysayers, including his own mother, a few years after WWII concluded, he turned the ‘What if?’ question on its head and said, ‘I'm going!’ He returned to Africa in 1955 and that became his forever home.
Nowadays, we have systems in place to respond to Mother Nature’s force when her fury descends; we watch in morbid fascination as events unfold. Back in 1958 though—with no social media—the loss of lives through floods was not common news. Yet, it made headlines when, in Southern Rhodesia, Africa, part of the Kariba Dam wall that was mid-construction, was hit by tumultuous water in a heavy rainy season; it crumbled like a sandcastle in the tide. Black and white laborers including Italian migrants didn’t stand a chance. To the local BaTonga natives who had been displaced by the ‘white man’s’ development, Nyaminyami, the river spirit had its revenge. For a short time though—regardless of race, religion or social standing—all were united in horror with news of a grisly outcome: bodies that had not been swept away but instead, had fallen downwards and become trapped in the wet concrete trench of the coffer wall, were to be left there … entombed for eternity. My father and mother had firsthand information during this tragic period, as a close friend was working for the Italian Consortium Impresit, that had won the tender to build the dam.
Seasonal changes can cause varying reactions whether literal or to our state of mind. How magnificent is Mother Nature as she transforms the landscapes and the weather in response to the Earth’s changing tilt towards or away from the sun. My mum, having lived all her life in Italy, until leaving for Africa in 1955, took a while to become accustomed to many changes not least of which were the ‘different’ hot and cold temperatures that are at odds in the different hemispheres. It was a diverse way of life in every sense including having to learn English. No wonder she questioned her understanding of the language when the term ‘suicide month’ was bandied about … it is still relevant today and every year at that time, as the country and people swelter in anticipation of the annual rains.
I wasn’t one to be part of a team; follow rules; or easily understand set curricula. I am a visual person. I need to write down what is in my brain to ‘see’ the story. Teachers just telling me what to do or read, rarely worked. They had to show me too … and that was not what happened at high school in the eighties. School wasn’t my thing. Maths and I, especially, had a love-hate relationship. It’s extraordinary that the latter half of my career has seen me project manage millions of government funds for educational purposes—successfully, I might add—acquitted to the last cent. It was more about the planning and reaching a goal that intrigued me. And so, it was for my mum; the strong woman behind her husband, the visionary. She did the planning; drew up the budget; and, ran things to order. So, when my father identified a new and brilliant idea to build an underlit catwalk for the models to show off the Italian clothes … he had some sweet talking to do.
When we left Zimbabwe in 2000, our two girls were ten and seven-years old. I still recall our youngest, with her short, red hair, cut tomboy-style complaining about her backpack being too heavy; and, that she was hot under the two jackets she was wearing. She toppled over at one stage— during our trip across continents—backwards onto her derrière! That image is still fresh in my mind, 19 years later; as is the resultant semi-hysterical laughter. I’m certain it was symbolic of stress; all our belongings were in four suitcases with extra clothes bundled into our backpacks or onto the bodies of two adults and two trusting innocents. Then, it was scary. Now, I think of us as pioneers. This quartet has gone on to do amazing things. I think back to my mum and dad when they left Italy to go and live in Africa in 1955. She couldn’t even speak a word of English; and she was leaving her mamma and her nonna behind. In the end, my mum didn’t regret her decision yet, it was hard won as her only relatives were both dead by the following year. Her biggest regret was not returning for Nonna’s funeral.
My sense of drama and flamboyancy must have come from my dad. Who else would have planned ‘a mock fall’ for one of the male models at a fashion show that they organised? Being ‘saved’ by female models was also intentional and, as imparted through this week’s book excerpt, my father enjoyed the planning as much as the event. BTW, the result was a sensation! When I’m not conforming to office wear, my husband states that I have a quirky dress sense. Huh! ‘One must have a touch of colour’ - a line from one of my favourite movies, ‘The Bird Cage’. I also tend to mix up my similes especially when excited … adding to the drama and laughter of an occasion. Good thing I don’t take myself too seriously. And every now and then, when there’s some great music playing on the TV, I’ll get up and do an impromptu dance, by myself. This normally happens with ‘eighties music’; what an amazingly melodic decade that was!
When writing my first book, I really had no concept about what would happen when the book was published; after the first rush of sales, shall we say. Then there is a lull that, unless as an author, we commit to keep on at it—keep up the marketing and taking opportunities to promote our book—could mean our book(s) becomes one of those dusty tomes at the back of a bookshelf. It’s alarming for an introvert (like me) to have to keep finding ways of putting myself out there to promote what I believe is an extraordinary family story…yet, keep on at it, I must! My father was the same—except, he wasn’t an introvert, so it was easy for him—looking out for opportunities without coming across as an ‘in your face’ salesperson. Yet, it’s more than that: it’s about planning; that pitch; that hook, that uniqueness, so as to draw people in. By 1957, the family’s fashion business had already made a name for itself in Rhodesia. My father didn’t stop there; he wanted to expand and so began the planning and strategy to exhibit at a trade fair in South Africa.
I didn’t think I’d write two books about my Italian Family’s history yet, a wise, fellow author reminded me that I had to respect my readers, as well as my family, in the re-telling of a period in their lives. That is, to respect the fullness of the life that my parents had led and allow it to reveal itself in all its richness without overwhelming readers. The two books embrace the drama, love, sadness and living of life (lives) that was too much to be relayed in just one tome. Whether you regard your family in a positive or negative light—or you may kid yourself and say, you are neutral—the passing of family members stirs up a whole lot of emotion. And so it was, for my mum when she returned to Italy with anguished feelings, after the sudden deaths of both her mamma and nonna, as retold in the second book.
In my neck of the woods, we're going into the depth of winter (I'm in the Southern Hemisphere). The shortest day is just around the corner. Luckily, winters aren't too severe here. On certain days, I can still find a sheltered warm spot in the sun, to sit outside with my laptop. With two loyal dogs at my feet, and birds chirping in the trees above, I am truly inspired and can get my writing on! A love of the outdoors is something I inherited from my parents. Having moved from Italy to Africa in 1955, they relished the thought of exploring the countryside especially after a busy work week inside their fashion boutique. In this excerpt, my dad is embracing the African hunting role; my mother, is ambivalent, yet also succumbs to the sense of adventure.
Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to just all come together and head out for a weekend—a group of friends exploring, making no plans—and before the kids came along. My Italian dad and mum loved that aspect of Africa. It’s freedom, the sense of adventure, as a group of Italian migrants gathered together to explore their new country; and, make new memories. This excerpt is taken from halfway through the book, after my dad has somehow managed to convince the receptionist at the swanky Victoria Falls hotel, to allow the tired travellers to sleep in the smoking room, as they had not booked any accommodation. The hotel was full yet, as it was late, my father’s Italian charm has found them a boudoir for the night. He forgets to mention that they also have a puppy dog with them that they slip in through the side door.
If you’ve ever moved to another country, it is exciting but also scary. Imagine what it is like if you don’t speak the language; have a different culture or look foreign. And even worse, you are leaving behind your mum and grandmother, the only family you’ve ever known, to follow your husband of two weeks, as he pursues his dream (crazy idea?) of selling Italian Haute Couture to expatriates in developing Africa. Times have changed since my mum and dad left Italy in 1955; it was a much more daring and risky expedition in those days; it was almost as far-fetched as landing on the moon! Added to that, my mum only spoke Italian at the time…She was plagued with doubt and terrified. Yet, she loved her husband—he was her knight in shining armour—and he sold the idea of an adventure so charmingly. Thankfully, he was also an astute businessman (or had been up until then), and he was fluent in three languages, of which English was one.
Both of my award-winning books are about my Italian family’s story (non-fiction). When I wrote the first book, it was with trepidation. I believed my mum and dad’s story was interesting but, was I capable of sharing this in a way that others would want to read it? Once I started writing about their WW2 experiences, the words literally poured from me. Two years later, I had followed a writing (style) checklist of do’s and don’ts. With the second book published, feedback from readers, is that my mother’s journey (1955-1969) from naïve bride to a pioneering businesswoman, is a joy to behold. Sometimes, this comment is also followed by … how your writing has matured too! I’m delighted that my promise to my readers of writing the best book I can, one that contains interesting historical facts, that depicts characters that develop and resonate with my readers has come true, including a few that have said they cried when (spoiler alert) – the family pet died. The first paragraph in my book was rewritten at least five times. I think I got it right though! I’d love to know your thoughts via a message on Goodreads or my website page. #authorpromise
The ‘Rule of Three’ is not just a fundamental framework for creative writing. Online articles by Brian Clark and Dave Linehan provide interesting insight into how following this will make your writing more engaging and contain the hooks that are needed. In fact, the Rule of Three is relevant in all aspects of life. The most acclaimed speeches use this technique–as far back as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address–and for today’s classic joke structure of set-up, anticipation, and punchline. An academic once told me that if you delete the three sentences at the beginning of each chapter (from your manuscript’s final draft), you will arrive at the sentence that should be the first one. It’s about removing the fluffy stuff and hooking in your reader. What do you think of the beginning of my book, “Ciao! WE’RE IN AFRICA”?
#ReaderLove - Love comes in all forms and sizes and, Oh! The Things We Do for Love (or because of love) … to quote the song by British band, 10cc. In 1957, it had been three years since my Italian parents migrated to Salisbury, Rhodesia. My mother gives in to my father’s manoeuvrings when he organises for a sixteen-year-old boy Paolo, the son of Esther, a close friend and employee in their business, to drive my mother to Johannesburg, South Africa (over 1,100km away). I’d met Paolo and his family many years ago, but we had lost touch. With this book advertised on Amazon, Paolo made contact through my website. How extraordinary to find out that we both live in Eastern Australia. For Paolo, reading my family’s story has brought back many memories. For me, a precious gift of some unseen photographs during that time. An amazing experience and especially emotional for my 85-year-old mum!
Readers of this second book seem to come away with one of two experiences. Either they lived in Rhodesia, Africa between 1950-1980, and the book stirs up fond memories. Or, the reader is a woman, and this story resonates with her, as she empathises with my mother, who has left behind all that is familiar, to forge a new life with her partner, so transitioning from a naïve girl to an assured woman. When I hear either of these reviews, it is most welcome, as I had hoped this account of my parents’ lives would appeal to different audiences. The excerpt I have chosen is from Chapter 3. My parents, Eugenio and Maria (Iucci) are visiting with an Italian couple on their recently purchased tobacco farm in Umtali, North Rhodesia in 1955. The trip proves to be an eventful one.
A timid girl. A young soldier. A love story. GOODBYE TO Italia is an award-winning non-fiction romantic story of Italian drama, courage and humour. It is set in Italy and Africa during World War 2. So as to stay true to the retelling by my mamma and pappa, and to capture the essence of living through those times, the chapters in the first half of the book interchange between the two diverse characters, Mariolina and Eugenio (13 years older than her), as they come of age.
Along with our eldest daughter and her partner (of a few years), my husband and I visited the city of Torino. One day, as my husband and I were waiting outside the church entrance where my parents had married in 1955, the heavy wooden door opened, and my daughter’s tearful face with a lopsided but joyful smile appeared. My heart dropped and then soared, as she announced, “We’re engaged!” As Mrs Bennett pronounces in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, my statement of, “I thought it would never happen”, was met with rolling eyes but excited laughter. For both my husband and I, this unexpected news—we had been told not to hold our breath—was gleeful and produced many positive emotions. Our visit to my ancestors’ hometown in Northern Italy was an absolute delight. It’s a surprisingly ‘happening’ place and modern city. Yet, during WW2, it had been heavily bombed and suffered greatly. The stately bridge over the River Po was of special interest as, my mum—a pretty child at the time—was out collecting firewood by the bridge in icy weather during the war when turning around, she discovered a German soldier watching her; it would have been terrifying!
When I read 'Seabiscuit' by Laura Hillenbrand, I was entranced. She wove the true story of a down and out little horse that captured the American nation's heart during the Great Depression. What a tale of hope and achievement for, as stated by the racehorse owner, Charles Howard, in the movie rendition: 'Our horse is too small; our jockey's too big; our trainer's too old; and, I'm too dumb to know the difference!' Laura's masterful writing technique inspired me to write my Italian family's story; and I wanted to couple their personal experiences with global events. 'GOODBYE TO Italia' is the result. I'm happy about how it turned out. My father's WW2 POW diaries are, of course, a major part of the success. His charismatic character shines through—messages from the grave (?!)—and his personality was likely influenced by the story of A.J. Raffles, a gentleman thief (written by Hornung), given to him just after his 21st birthday whilst in the camp.
Wrong! Because you should care what readers think. Yes, writing and reading is about escaping into a secret world; and, if we’re lucky, as writers, our stories well up and pour out in words that we assemble into some meaningful semblance. But if it is just so jumbled that readers cannot follow where you are trying to lead them, guess what, they won’t continue on that journey. And that amazing conclusion that you carefully structured … it lies undiscovered; languishing due to a poorly lit and challenging pathway that only a few may stumble down. Now, I’m all for unique writing techniques. Sometimes, I’m almost jealous about another author’s mesmerizing and enthralling writing style. Yet, in the end, we just want a good story. We want to have that information communicated to us and gain more knowledge. As a POW in WW2, my father and fellow inmates were given letters from their families—normally months after they had been sent. But they didn’t care; all they wanted was that human connection … even if sometimes it made things seem much too real.
Mental health is a huge issue. It causes wars (no-peace) within us and with others. It can have tragic outcomes whether on lives, finances, or other (personal and global). It’s a human issue? But I’ve seen animals fighting over food even when well-fed. So, I’d say it is based on a state of mind. As humans, we all have an obligation to manage this for our own sense of wellbeing and due to the dreadful outcomes, that can result. Yet, it can be one of the hardest things to do—to be peaceful or at peace (mindfulness); it is far easier to self-sabotage. This was the case for my father in the South African Prisoner of War camp, when the end of WW2 was declared. He warred with his mind and decided not to sign a Declaration of Cooperation. He thought it was a trick; and that, it would be an admission of guilt that would see him punished when returned home. Instead, it meant he had to stay longer in the camp whilst others gleefully departed.
I recently asked readers (in my monthly eNewsletter) to send a photo of their favourite paperbacks, or of books that they use often. Check it out on the Facebook page -@MarisaParkerAuthorHome – I’d love to receive more, so if you’re keen, post as a response to that message with the information of your location in the world. And, add a sentence about one of the books in your photo … It’ll be interesting to find out about your literary passions! Imagine though not being able to know what is going on around you or being able to find out more; not knowing anything about the outside world, or your family, or friends. Indeed, if questions are asked, repercussions are swift. As a 20-year-old man desperate to find out anything, my father foolishly forgot this constraint in a moment of desperation, when in a POW concentration camp (1941).
I’ve always loved how just one word can be so evocative: Each of the names of the four seasons said out loud bring pictures to my mind. Or what about food words preceded by a descriptor…fresh bread; mulled wine; cheesy pizza…yum! Whenever we talk or read—the use of specific words and how they are placed in a sentence—can reveal much of ourselves to others. I find true joy in listening to an articulate and knowledgeable (not arrogant) person and/or reading a well-written book. I can even forgive grammatical errors, if a story has been cleverly crafted, so that it pulls me in and along, as if I’m a part of that world, and not just as an observer. Different languages have different sounds. And, so it was, for my father and his Italian compatriots when they were in a South Africa POW camp in World War 2. Trust the Italians to find some amusement when discussing the Afrikaans language.
I was lucky to find an assisted independent (indie) publisher who supported me through my creative journey for both my books. I say lucky, although, I did my research and looked at reviews about the company—that is my first tip about and comment on the changed publishing landscape; and, I have been converted to indie publishing and this new way forward—second tip and comment—that writers need to embrace this model. It is empowering, and you actually get more bang for buck in the long run. My conversion is so strong that I now have the privilege of working with the Ocean Reeve Publishing team that brought my second book to life. The excerpt is taken from when my dad is in an Egyptian POW camp in 1941. My love of writing obviously came from him. His voice transcends the life-death barrier, as I used passages from his (secret) diaries for sections in my first (award-winning) book.
When asked questions about my Italian father’s few years in the World War 2, Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Zonderwater, South Africa*, I become emotional; understandably. As things go, it wasn’t on the horrific scales, as identified in Hillenbrand’s book (Jolie’s movie), ‘Unbreakable’. But it was a POW camp, nevertheless. “Well, wasn’t he lucky not to have faced all the gunfire; ...been in amongst the thick of things; ...been injured?” Such statements are part of what prompted me to write an alternate perspective, insight from someone close, who was on ‘the other side’. I’ve toned down some of the scribblings from my father’s diaries: he may not have suffered extreme physical debasement, nevertheless, he would rather have been on the front line, fighting for his family, his country and his dignity. Suffering comes in a myriad of forms and each person has their limit; don’t you think? The extract is from when the Italian army have been captured in North Africa and after days of walking, they arrive at a site where prisoners will be sorted and sent onto camps. *The biggest Southern Hemisphere POW camp of the Commonwealth forces: https://www.marisaparkerauthor.com/single-post/Walking-in-my-Fathers-Footsteps
My family and I were in Europe over Christmas. Whist in Torino, Northern Italy, where my Italian parents grew up, I followed in their footsteps. We visited, La Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata - the Church of the Most Holy Annunciation, where my mum and dad were married in 1955. As the wedding service concluded, my mum took a small moment to say a prayer at the foot of the statue of Mary (Maria), the mother of Jesus. The extract from my book depicts this. When my family and I visited, I was only given five minutes to explore this exquisite Church and then, my husband hustled me outside. I was cross with him for doing so, but instantly forgave him, upon seeing our daughter’s delighted, albeit tear-stained face, when she exited the Church, with a new sparkling diamond ring on her finger. Her beaming fiancé followed her out and we all exchanged heartfelt hugs and well wishes. How romantic it was of him, to propose in the Church where the bride’s grandparents were married! Surely, this sings to the heart of all romantics?! I wrote a four-part blog series about following in my parents’ footsteps through Italy; it’s available on my website: www.marisaparkerauthor.com/blog
Recently, I was at a bookshop promoting my books. I approached a woman who was flicking through one of them. I introduced myself and after giving my 30-second pitch, I was surprised when she asked whom had published it and how much it cost. Pinned under her direct stare, I answered. Immediately, she told me I had spent too much, and I wouldn’t get my money back. I retorted that sales were promising. She walked off. Sadly, I had foolishly reacted because of her confrontational nature. I later found out that she was a fellow author. In light of this week’s Book Bubble theme, I’ve chosen to look at this in the sense of being prepared and having a good ‘comeback’ when challenged by someone. A wise friend—fellow author and publisher—Ocean Reeve, recommends staying silent for ten seconds to realise that the negative person is expressing their own dissatisfaction. Don’t be drawn in. Respond with, ‘Thanks for your comment’, and walk away. My dad had a most effective comeback when, as a teenager, his mother discovered that he’d carried a motorbike into his bedroom to repair it. She doesn’t hesitate to express her displeasure. The book excerpt is his response.
I dabbled in writing in my teenage years. I loved immersing myself in fictional Enid Blyton stories and then, the J.R.R.Tolkien trilogy. I never considered during my young adult years of undertaking a writing marathon. It was over a cup of tea, however that fate took control. As my mum reminisced about ‘her Italian childhood days’, I suddenly grabbed a pen and a notepad, and started scribbling. Then, faced with all these wonderful accounts, I realized the enormity of the task ahead of me. I had just completed my master’s degree, as a mature-age university student. So, my family demonstrated amazing generosity when I announced my intent to write about my Italian family’s story. What commenced as a romantic quest to create a legacy turned into a burning ambition to research, capture and recreate the lives of my Italian parents during World War 2 in Italy and Africa. With a thirteen-year age gap between them, and the discovery of my father’s diaries that he secretly wrote in Zonderwater, a South African, Prisoner of War Camp, I had ample content to feed my passion. The support of my family through this was extraordinary. Now, with two award-winning books to my name, I have an incredible sense of achievement. #writeyourstory #whatisyourhistory
It is easy to fall prone to thoughts of disappointment and discontent. How much nicer the day is when we smile at a stranger in the street and receive a grin, even if it is gap-toothed! Appreciating the small pleasures in life and taking moments to breathe and just ‘be’, are important reminders for me, so as to celebrate achievements and plan what small step I can put in place to lead me forwards. Both my parents had this ability to grab at opportunities and turn ‘lemons into lemonade’! In 1943, my father turned twenty-one in a Prisoner of War camp in South Africa. His birthday was unremarkable, and he worried that he was beginning to lose his mind. But he rallied and determinedly nudged those voices aside looking for things to do, and how to help others, in a crowded concentration camp of 63,000 inmates.
I cannot imagine what it was like for my mum as a six-year-old in Turin, North Italy in 1940. During World War 2, bombings, a lack of food and intensely cold winters killed a great deal of people almost as bad as if they were fighting on the front line. In ‘GOODBYE TO Italia’, my mum and dad’s experiences interchange during the first half of the book, as they were so diverse. What courage and perseverance were demonstrated by those women and children! How fortunate we and our children are today; we must never forget. #ReaderLove
It was an emotional moment when my mum handed me my father’s bedraggled diaries that he had written whilst incarcerated in the Zonderwater (South Africa), Prisoner of War camp during WW2. I’d been badgering my mum to provide more information about pappa, as the story I was writing about my Italian parents in Italy and Africa, was very one-sided. Needless to say, the diary discovery blew me away. It also meant that it took far longer to complete the manuscript. I had to work through my father’s ineligible scrawls. Not only was colloquial Italian used but different shades of ink or stubby pencil scratching made it hard to interpret. I chose to write GOODBYE TO Italia in alternating chapters: my mother as a young child, and her war experiences and my father, a young army officer. The excerpt I have chosen from the book, is from when my father was captured in 1941.
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