Domenic's War: A Story of the Battle of Monte
Cassino, by Curtis Parkinson; Tundra Books:
Toronto, 2oo6; $9.95
At the mention of war, some of the first images that come to mind are of troops firing from trenches or a plane dropping bombs. These are the experiences of soldiers; but imagine an ordinary person, a family with children perhaps, just doing ordinary, everyday things, like cleaning up the house or sitting down to breakfast. Imagine doing these things, but with shells exploding all around you, parts of your house being blown to bits. To step outside your front door is to risk death.
In Domenic's War; Curtis Parkinson has Antonio experience such a life living in a town at the foot of Monte Cassino, the mountain where stands one of the oldest monasteries in Italy, now the location of one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of World War II. Antonio is drawing water from his well, when a misdirected shell changes his life forever, reducing his house to rubble and killing his family.
While the families near Monte Cassino face such perils, those in other parts of Italy suffer from hunger and poverty. All the food the farmers produced and stored is commandeered by passing German soldiers to whom they dare not give resistance. Thirteen-year-old Domenic Luppino's father is one of these poor farmers. His family never has enough to eat, and whatever food they do have must be carefully rationed. There is no telling what will happen from one day to the next. When it comes to war, such families are totally helpless.
However, it is as easy to pity the soldiers as it is to pity the civilians. Parkinson makes his readers see the soldiers as individuals, men who have been sent by their countries to kill or be killed, but who are, nevertheless, ordinary people, many of whom have families and children of their own. When Domenic's father and older brother go into hiding up in the hills, Domenic's house is taken over by a company of German soldiers. Domenic and the German captain develop a rough relationship. The captain is kind to Domenic and shows him a letter from his son, Gunther. It is very sad to see how much the son misses his father and wants him home, sad to see how much the captain wishes to be home with the family he loves.
The real enemies, it seems, are those who started the war. At one point in the story, a Canadian soldier tells of how he was sent to drive the Germans out of a town they had occupied and was drawn by a voice into a house that he, himself, had blown up out of sheer anger. He encounters a seventeen-year-old German soldier with his stomach ripped open. "After that," the Canadian says, "I wasn't mad at anyone anymore—except whoever it was that got him and me into this mess in the first place."
Parkinson leaves his reader reassured that life will go on for Domenic and Antonio and eventually the war will end. However, something like the war of Monte Cassino, that had such a strong impact on the lives of those who experienced it, will always remain in their minds. Nothing will ever be exactly the same as it was before.