The Mussolini Novel Project

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Well, I’m doing it.  I’m publishing my novel as an e-book.

The news story I stumbled upon over a decade ago in the public library in Newton, Massachusetts has grown into a novel.   The tantalizing reports about the hit-and-run car accident in a remote town in Italy in 1930 captivated me and lingered in my thoughts.   The driver, Benito Mussolini (yes, the Italian dictator) and his passenger Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. (great great grandson of the famous millionaire) were touring the Italian countryside when Mussolini ran over and killed a little girl.  Mussolini, who never stopped the car, threatened Vanderbilt to keep quiet about it. Several months later, however, the story was leaked by an anti-Fascist group.  It hit the newspapers and it became an international scandal–with the anti-Fascists claiming the story was true, Mussolini denying it, and average Americans becoming shocked that the great Mussolini (who was a bit of a hero at the time) was capable of a hit-and-run and suppressing the story.

From those facts, I wove a story about the little girl who died and her family–her mother Lucia and her father Donato–and how this event tears them apart, but brings some of them unexpected happiness too.  I set the story in Montebello, an imaginary Italian hill town not far from Monte Vesuvio, very similar to the place where my grandfather was born, where the men wear tweed caps, smoke cigarettes and stroll the piazza, and the women go to church and pray for their husbands to come home.  Not long after the accident Elio Sardolini, a skinny Jewish anti-Fascist, is exiled to Montebello as punishment for his subversive activities (a common practice in Fascist Italy).  Working with local anti-Fascists, he helps to uncover the truth about the accident and, in the process, falls in love with Lucia.

Even after years of living with the story and these wonderful characters, I still can’t pin down a title.  My friends who have voted on earlier versions of it are probably groaning and saying,  “You still can’t decide?”  It’s true, I can’t.  So once again, I’m asking for your opinion.  Can you take my poll and vote on the title you like the best?  If you can think of another title, feel free to include it as well.   As the Italians say, “Mille grazie!”–a thousand thanks.

4 replies »

  1. Sounds like truly a great story. Now that I voted for “other” (“One LIfe in Affairs of State”), think I prefer the simpler “Just One Life,” drawing from Mussolini’s remark, “What is one life in the affairs of state?”

    Also, like his supposed quote to Vanderbilt of “Don’t Look Back.”

    Obviously you sent me to the internet. Oh, the wisdom of hindsight…. Can’t believe the U.S. government apologized to Mussolini for General Butler’s references to the hit-and-run.

    “Montebello in the Rearview Mirror.” “Exile in Montebello.” “Haunting Mussolini.”

    Whatever you call it, looking forward to reading it….


  2. Hi Gayle. Wow! Thanks so much for your title ideas! I used “Just One Life” for quite a while, but was advised to include a reference to Italy or one of the main characters to indicate to readers that the book is set in Italy. It is still my favorite, so that’s why I think I’m struggling to find another title. You’ve given me great ideas. “Don’t Look Back” is wonderful. I’m going to add it to the survey (if I can). Again, my sincere thanks!


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