the “musical” adventure of an Italian prisoner in America – La Voce di New York


                "Swing, together with Giacinto, is the protagonist of the novel ... Music, Swing, for Giacinto, prisoner of war in America during the Second World War, is salvation: it allows him to better experience the suffering of the distance from home and, above all, to rejoin something that is vital for him "                </p><div>
                <p class="p1"><span class="s1"><img class="alignleft wp-image-171339" src="" alt="" width="330" height="468" srcset=" 1200w, 600w, 641w" sizes="(max-width: 330px) 100vw, 330px"/>Advice to prisoners of war: if you can, try to avoid detention in a French camp; instead choose an American where, if you are Italian, they will treat you quite well. It's a joke, of course. But if it refers to the Second World War, it has its own truth. Giacinto Castelli knows something about it, the protagonist - invented but not too much - of <i>Saved by the Swing</i> Enzo Riboni 's first novel (Il Falò editions), journalist and collaborator for long years of the economic pages of the <i>Corriere della Sera</i>. The book is also available in the version <i>ebook</i>, recommended because 74 pieces of music can all be clicked on, all related to the plot: from jazz to classical music, from the songs of the time to military and political marches.</span>

In reality, Giacinto is largely the father of the author: taken prisoner by the Allies and sent to a camp managed by the French army in Africa, he managed to escape by handing himself over to the Americans. A good option: because Camp Butner, in North Carolina, was yes a prison but all in all those Italian soldiers who, after September 8th, chose to cooperate did not fare too badly. Many were “adopted” by Italian-American families, almost all were invited to parties and trips, several became engaged and ended up causing some irritated stomach ache to Anglos. He, the father-hyacinth, found his way thanks to the violin. It is no coincidence that the book’s subtitle is: A violin in America. Reliable novel, from the intentions: relatively little is known about the epic of the over fifty thousand Italian soldiers who spent their captivity in an American camp. And that little is mostly in the dry numbers of statistics and serious scientific research. A fictional diary makes you understand much more.

Camp Butner, North Carolina

Saved by Swing: why this title and what does it tell about?

“Swing, together with Giacinto, is the protagonist of the novel. It is the musical genre born in the United States in the twenties of the last century and became very popular between the ’35 and the ’40 with its “swinging” rhythm, that is, precisely, “Swing”, as they say in English. Music, Swing, for Giacinto, prisoner of war in America during the Second World War, is salvation: it allows him to better experience the suffering of being away from home and, above all, to reunite with something that is vital for him “.


“To the violin, to the instrument he loves so much and which he is deprived of in war in Italy and to which, paradoxically, he manages to rejoin just as a prisoner. Here is the reason for the subtitle: A violin in America. For him, the violin is strength and beauty and, even in that situation of imprisonment full of unknowns, a reassuring reference point “.

Hyacinth among other prisoners

But who is Giacinto?

“He is a worker with a good general education as a self-taught, lover of geography, attracted by mathematics and excellent violinist. In Italy, in the evening, after work, he often wears the head orchestra suit and plays in the Milanese ballrooms, even prestigious ones. His story, in the book, begins in July 1943, when, after the Allies landed in Sicily, he was taken prisoner by the Americans and then transferred to a camp in North Carolina. “

But Giacinto is also his father, right?

“The story is inspired by the real story of my father, a soldier from a mortar company, captured in Alcamo. The book, therefore, in part refers to the stories he made in the family recalling the prison experience. But, for a remaining 80 percent, it is a work of fantasy, of fictionalized narration. Although, it must be said, every historical reference is rigorously truthful and has as reference the essay of a historian who is the best expert on the events dealt with and who has written the preface: Flavio Giovanni Conti author, among other things, of Italian prisoners in the United States (Bologna, il Mulino, 2012) “.

The narration has an almost filmic cadence. Is it wanted?

“No, it came to me like this. The book alternates between chapters in which Giacinto reflects on his situation as a prisoner, evoking, through flashbacks, episodes of his life in Italy, with others of current action with an external narrator. In its evocations two elements, closely linked, have a central role: music and the United States. Precisely because, already in Italy, he loves jazz, Swing, Boogie-woogie and the great performers of the time from Benny Goodman to Count Basie to Duke Ellington, Giacinto consequently loves everything that is American, to the point that his capture , if on the one hand it arouses fears and worries, on the other it opens hopes for “discovering America” ​​”.

The theater in the prison camp

And of that “discovery”, what did your father report in the family stories?

“A great admiration for American democracy, unknown for him born and raised under the fascist dictatorship, and a lively enthusiasm for the wealth of that country, for its industrial power incomparable with that of Italy at the time. To the point that, once he was repatriated, his biggest dream was to emigrate to the United States, a project that could not be realized due to sad family impediments. However, as a demonstration of the incredible democratic culture, he often told of how, on weekends, he could leave the prison camp to be a guest of an Italian American family. And in fact the whole Italian American community has been of great support and comfort for all prisoners “.

Camp Butner headquarters

Returning to the novel, beyond the protagonist there are other characters that stand out and are also ready for a film version …

“Two, in my opinion: Carletto and Donovan. The first is a good giant who has immense admiration and affection for Giacinto, in defense of which he stands as a shield with his strength against any physical danger, but from which he feels emotionally and psychologically protected. Donovan, on the other hand, is an Italian-American soldier, an excellent clarinet player and a brilliant university student of mathematics, who establishes an intense musical-intellectual relationship with Giacinto, oscillating between Benny Goodman and Kepler. And then there is Jenny: she is beauty, seduction, love and a sense of guilt. “

Enzo Riboni, author of the novel

Ultimately, the novel moves between music, history, adventure and feeling …

“Yes, but there is also something unexpected, I think, in this context: an injection of legal thriller. Giacinto, in fact, is accused of the death of a German prisoner and the Americans institute a martial court that puts him on trial ”.

A book that revolves around music will also have precise references to songs and songs …

“The 74 tracks mentioned in the book are the added value. Because they are “linkable”: in the online version of Saved by the Swing just click them to listen to them on Youtube: all period executions “.


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