That’s what Uncle Jim, the co-protagonist of my book, “The 45th Nail”, says. And, when writing his story I too took his advice.
Jim has a story to tell, and this story is made of different events which happened to him during his life as a soldier and later, as a deserter. He needs his nephew, Robert, to know where he’s been and what he’s done, but Jim will not just sit on a park bench and mutter it all off at once. He needs to be understood, and for that he needs to take his nephew where those events took place. He needs the rocks and walls and grenade holes to testify his words, else they will just be that…words.
The stones speak. This is what my father, Michael, used to tell me, when we ourselves were traveling around Italy. I was just a child and I’d stare stupidly while he placed his hands on an ancient column somehwere in Rome and closed his eyes. He’d make me try and then he’d tell me something about Roman history, like how they used to march war prisoners past that same column. The day after that he made the entire family squat in a ditch in a field under the abbey of Montecassino in Frosinone, south of Rome, just to explain why the abbey, a beautiful monument, built by St Benedict himself, had been turned to rubble by an Allied airstrike. We saw it with the eyes of the American soldiers who were trying to advance towards Rome, and my Italian mother, reluctantly, had to admit that it loomed like a fortress over the entire area. It did. Of course you’d have to be there to understand.
Thirty years later I found my dad’s notes about that trip. There were sketches, journals about each monument we’d visited as well as me and my brother’s misbehavings, and there were interviews. My father had met and spoken to the many people who had been there in 1944, when the American troops had landed in Anzio and had started pushing up North. Italian people who had lost relatives to one side or the other, who had survived impossible odds and who had found themselves surrounded by German soldiers when the radio had declared that Italy and Germany were not allies anymore. I had seen all those places, and met all those faces, and I could tell Jim’s story. Jim is a fictional character who connects all those true stories and real places together. Jim insists that Robert visit those places too because that is where those stories still live. As a writer, I feel the book has done its job since my readers have told me how much Jim’s story has made them want to come to Italy. They may have heard the whispering of the stones from afar and want to experience more than just the words. I remind them about the squat part.
He is also grateful to his editor at www.sandhbooks.com for getting the book out in time for his father to hold a copy in his hands before he too became a part of history, earlier this year.