Italy, 1937. In a tiny village in rural Lombardy, Graziella Ponti is born into a loving family.
Though they are not rich and life is full of challenges, they are content and safe, surrounded by the tightly-knit community of Pieve Santa Clara.
But when the shadow of World War Two falls across the village with the arrival of Nazi soldiers, nothing in young Graziella’s life will ever be the same again.
Paradiso is Graziella’s story. It charts her loves, losses and triumphs as she grows up in post-war Italy, a country in transformation, freed from the shackles of dictatorship yet still gripped by the restraints of the Catholic church.
Paradiso is inspired by true stories told to Francesca Scanacapra by her Italian family and set in locations where she spent much of her childhood. It is a deeply affecting novel which sheds light on the complexity and trauma of Italy’s past and weaves it into the epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live in extraordinary times.
This stunning historical read is perfect for fans of Dinah Jeffries, Rhys Bowen, Victoria Hislop, Angela Petch and Heather Morris.
Author Bio – Francesca Scanacapra was born in Italy to an English mother and Italian father, and her childhood was spent living between England and Italy. Her adult life has been somewhat nomadic and she has pursued an eclectic mixture of career paths, including working as a technical translator between Italian, English, Spanish and French, a gym owner in Spain, an estate agent in France, a property developer in France and Senegal, and a teacher. Francesca lives in Dorset and currently works as a builder with her husband. She has two children.
Many people have asked me where the inspiration for Paradiso and its sequel, Return to Paradiso, came from. There isn’t a linear, logical answer. A blur of ideas was bouncing around in my head for a long time before I typed a single word.
Without a doubt, my Italian family was the starting point. I have vivid, early childhood memories of visiting my grandfather’s maiden aunts, who lived in rural Lombardy in the house on which Paradiso is based. Although my visits were during the 1970s, the way they lived had changed very little since well before World War II. The house was rustic, to say the least. Water was obtained via a manual pump in the back-kitchen; laundry was still done by hand in enormous vats; pasta was made from scratch. There was an inside bathroom which had been installed in the 1950s, but that seemed to be the only modern luxury; apart from a refrigerator, which was in the entrance hall as there was no electric socket in the kitchen.
I began to weave stories based around the old house, some of them imagined, but others constructed around real events. In the first Paradiso novel the story of the ambushed freight train is based on truth. A train carrying tobacco derailed outside my grandfather’s village and men and boys from the surrounding area raced to salvage what they could. The police were called to deal with the looters and my unfortunate grandfather, who was no older than thirteen at the time, was caught leaving the scene with a large sack of tobacco. His father was furious; not because my grandfather had been arrested, but because the police confiscated the tobacco, and he had been looking forward to smoking for free for the next few years.
My great-grandfather has been the source of much inspiration. He was the type of man who people described as ‘a bit of a character’. He was once shot in the backside by an angry, cuckolded husband who caught him leaving his wife’s bedroom via a first floor window. Although his injuries were not serious, the lead shot had to be dug out with a kitchen knife by his sister, and apparently one of his buttocks looked like orange peel until the day he died. How could such an exquisite gift of an anecdote not end up in a book?
Memories of this bygone time, of which I caught the briefest of glimpses before it was lost to modern technologies, mass mechanisation and the passing of my great-grandfather and my grandfather’s maiden aunts, gave me a stage on which to form a cast of characters.
None of the characters in the Paradiso novels are based entirely on a single person. They are composites of imagination and people I encountered, or who were spoken about; created by piecing together little fragments until a recognisable form emerged. The narrator and protagonist, Graziella Ponti, was taking shape in my head long before I began writing about her. The same was true for the character of Gianfrancesco Marchesini and for Graziella’s parents, Teresa and Luigi.
From these main characters, many, many others were born. They clamoured for my attention, demanding to be given a part in the book. I had the population of a whole Lombard village in my head and that made it a noisy, disordered place sometimes. Even fictional Italians can’t form an orderly queue.
I would love to say that once I had a plot and characters in place, I made a plan and stuck to it, but that wasn’t at all the case. I didn’t start writing at the beginning of the story and work my way through to the end. Paradiso and Return to Paradiso grew in an organic way as I tackled whatever I felt inspired to write in the moment, hoping that eventually everything would join up. It probably wasn’t the most efficient way to write, but putting my faith in a bit of serendipity worked out in the end – just like real life.
As the process of writing unfolded, new ideas formed and I found myself dealing with many questions concerning the lives of my characters and the people who inspired them. It wasn’t just a case of recounting farcical anecdotes of stolen tobacco and naked escapes through bedroom windows. My family had lived through dictatorship and the turmoil of two world wars. They had experienced terror, personal tragedies and hunger; as well as moments of laughter, of great joy and of love. All those real experiences became juxtaposed onto the fictional experiences of my characters.
Writing these books has taken me on an emotional journey. It has made me appreciate ordinary and extraordinary things done by ordinary people.
I now have two families – my Italian family and my Paradiso family. I love them both very much.