Before You Go, Read: Naples, Italy

Travelling is always a great experience.  It is even more great if you know some of the area’s history, and can see things in context.  That’s why we’re bringing you this randomly occuring series, Before You Go, Read.

Naples, Italy is an amazing and awful and fascinating and frustrating city.  During a day in Naples, it is not uncommon to feel all these things on the same day.  Two books can help to unlock the mystery of Naples.

The first book is historical fiction with a strong romantic theme.  The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella is the story of a young Italian woman who is a fabulous cook, and follows her life as it is impacted by World War II.  It is also the story of a young English officer sent to Naples to prevent marriages between local women and English soldiers.  While the outcome seems obvious, the story is truly amazing.   The book cover and the Amazon listing both focus on the romantic story, but I was significantly more fascinated by the evocative descriptions of war-time life in Naples.  Prior to reading this book, I could not imagine the ways in which the war destroyed the city.  It gave me a new perspective on both the city itself, and an amazing appreciation for its older residents.

Understanding the physical and social destruction of the region helped me to better understand the things I read in the second recommended book. Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System is non-fiction, and sometimes a little hard to read. It also sets the scene for why Naples is the way it is, why things don’t get done (or why they do), and why the residents tolerate certain things that would make most other big-city dwellers crazy.

There is no way to adequately express how much my perspective on Naples was altered by these two books.  I give them my highest recommendation for deepening my appreciation for the region and its people.