THE CITY WITHOUT WOMEN: A CHRONICLE OF INTERNMENT LIFE IN CANADA DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Reviewed by Catherine R. Cox
Reviewed by Catherine R. Cox
Volume 22 Number 4
Mario Duliani was born in Italy in 1885. A journalist and playwright from a young age, he moved to France in 1907 where he worked as foreign correspondent for Il Messagerio of Rome and wrote and staged eight French-language plays. In 1936, sponsored by the editor of La Presse, he moved to Canada. In 1937 he founded the French-language wing of the Montreal Repertory Theatre. From 1940 to 1943, as an Italian national, he was interned in Petawawa and Gagetown. After the war he resumed his career in Montreal, translating the plays of Pirandello into French and promoting the local theatre scene. La ville sans femmes was originally published in French in 1945. Duliani died in Montreal in 1964.
Duliani writes in his introduction that the narrative to follow is neither a "journal" nor a "memoir," but a "documentary novel" based on his internment during World War II. It is a novel, then, without plot or characters, except that of the narrator, who is not exceptionally well developed.
It is easier to think of the narrative as a biographical account of life in the camps. Actually, most of it is set in Petawawa with only a brief account of the move to Gagetown, near Fredericton, N.B., at the end of his incarceration. The City Without Women begins with Duliani's arrival in Petawawa and deals with daily life in the camp, the character of the groups of people there, and the feelings of loneliness and despair of some of the young men separated from their loved ones.
Duliani became director of the hospital in the camp, so he used that experience to describe his job and his contacts with the men that came and went through the doors. Other men worked as loggers nearby while some did as little as possible. Recreation consisted of card games and outdoor games including bocce among the Italians. Internees varied from Italian-born Canadians and German-born Canadians to sailors from ships caught in Montreal harbour at the outset of the war and other potential "fifth columnists" rounded up under the War Measures Act. Duliani makes several references to "the ex-mayor of Montreal" in the camp.
A little-known chapter in Canadian history, the internment of Canadians of foreign birth during World War II is an important study for all Canadians. Duliani's book complements other accounts of internment like Joy Kogawa's Obasan (Penguin, 1991), Nakao Takano's  Behind the Barbed Wire Fence, and even Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, still on many high school reading lists.
Lyrically written at the beginning, The City With out Women becomes a sort of catalogue of daily tasks and recreations in the middle. It is really a series of essays set in one locale rather than a novel. However, as a chronicle of the time, it is an important, and much delayed, addition to English-Canadian literature.
Catherine R. Cox is a teacher-librarian at Moncton High School in Moncton, New Brunswick
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