The Order Has Been Carried Out by Alessandro Portelli

Nonfiction — print. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Originally published 2003. 330 pgs. Purchased.

Subtitled “History, Memory, and Meaning of a Nazi Massacre in Rome”, Portelli follows the March 24, 1944 massacre of 335 unarmed civilians by the Nazi occupation forces in Rome in retaliation for a partisan attack the day before. The resistance fighters killed 35 Nazis so the Nazis decided to kill ten Italians for each German killed.

With a heavy reliance upon the oral testimonies of the victims’ family, friends, and fellow resistance fighters, Portelli attempts to craft a multi-voiced oral history of the massacre, of its background and its aftermath.

I will confess to knowing little about the Fascist regime in or Nazi occupation of Italy. I was excited to learn more about Italy during this time period, but Portelli’s book just did not do it for me.

There is a wealth of information in this book and it isn’t always the easiest book to read. The interviewee’s testimonies were meant to blend together to paint a complete picture of Italy before, during, and after the war. A picture not clouded by socioeconomic status or gender bias as another book about Italy during the late 1930s and early 1940s I read recently.

But the stories blend too well. It’s really difficult to delineate between the interviewees and I failed to develop a connection with an interviewee. For me, when reading about the Holocaust, an emotional connection is important. At the very least, I want to follow a handful of people so I feel like I really get to know them.

The construction of memory and how it’s shaped by myth is a really interesting subject to me. It’s something I would love to research more and I think this book contributes well to the development of my understanding of how memory is shaped. But I found getting through the book to be really difficult.

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