It tells the story of Luigi, growing up in Mussolini’s pre-war Italy in a small Tuscan village, who, while still a young teenager, luckily acquires a damaged bicycle left with him by a British tourist. With the help of his uncle he repairs the bike which allows him to glimpse the world outside his village.
From that point onwards Luigi’s bicycle is an important sub-text reinforced by amusing chapter headings about cycling. The bicycle is also basis of Luigi’s long held dream of escaping village life and riding his bicycle to the near mythical land of Australia which he read about at school.
Eventually the war comes to Italy and the 18 year old Luigi is called up by the army and after a few months training he and several friends are assigned to a bicycle unit and end up in Ancona on the Adriatic coast.
By then, however, the hated Germans are in control and the war finally reaches Italy and their base becomes a target for allied air raids.
On an assignment to transport supplies to inland units Luigi and his friends are cut off and find themselves joining the partisans which exposes Luigi and his friends to the reality of war and the terrible losses caused by it.
Murray’s well written and readable novel is an intriguing story which tells us how Luigi sees the world on his way to Australia, a place he finds as magical as he had dreamed it would be as a teenager and finds freedom and love.
At a time when today’s refugees are made unwelcome, Luigi’s story is a timely reminder of the welcome most post war refugees received by the largely Anglo Celtic population, and the ease with which most quickly fitted in and became appreciated contributors to, as well as beneficiaries of, the post war growth of Australia.
It is very satisfying read and I strongly recommend it, not the least because we need to be reminded that probably the great majority of us descend from convicts or refugees.
Terry Purcell is a solicitor and was the founding director of the Law Foundation of NSW. He is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog.