________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


Domenic's War: A Story of the Battle of Monte Cassino.

Curtis Parkinson.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2006.
191 pp., pbk., $14.99.
ISBN 0-88776-751-6.

Subject Headings:
Cassino, Battle of, Cassino, Italy, 1944-Juvenile fiction.
World War, 1939-1945-Campaigns-Italy-Cassino-Juvenile fiction.
Children and war-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Caitlin J. Berry.

** /4


“What's this?” The soldier pushed the dog aside and lifted a porcelain bowl from the pail.

“Minestra. For my aunt. She's sick.”

Taking off the towel covering the bowl, the soldier sniffed the soup. He lifted the bowl to his mouth and took a sip. “Good,” he said. Then he winked at Domenic and grinned.

Domenic looked up in surprise.

“Lucky aunt. Lucky you. Mother good cook.” He swallowed another mouthful. Then, slopping some into his cupped hand, he held it out to the dog. “Fur dich, Wilhelm.” The dog licked his hand eagerly, and the soldier replaced the towel and gently set the bowl back in the pail. The helmeted face turned to Domenic. “Strangers come, boy?” He was not smiling now.

Domenic shook his head.

The soldier made a pistol of his hand, pointing his index finger at Domenic. “If lie...”

Domenic knew what he meant. He'd heard shots ring out across the valley last week. He held the soldier's gaze.

January, 1944: On a farm in northern Italy, young Domenic and his family are caught in the ravages of World War II. Heroically, the family is risking their lives by hiding two British prisoners of war in a nearby mill. Due to his age and seeming innocence, Domenic is given the harrowing daily duty of taking the men food. Secretly though, Domenic likes the fact that his father has asked him. He feels more important now and brave like his older brother, Guido.

     To the south, taking refuge near the Benedictine monastery on the mountain of Monte Cassino, Antonio, a teen, reels in shock, his town and family recently obliterated by bombing. Alongside hundreds, he demands access to the safety of the monastery. Once inside, however, they meet only with claustrophobia and starvation, and soon a message comes that bombing of the monastery, itself, is imminent. Antonio, his beloved friend Adriana, and his elderly companions, the Rossis, hide in the crypt under the cathedral and wait for their lives to once more explode. They finally make their escape, only to be captured by the Germans. Antonio, separated from the others, is put to work as a muleteer, every day further braving the bombings and shellings as the Allies push the front northward.

     Back at the farm, Father and Guido escape to safer ground in order to avoid work camp enslavement, and Domenic is now man of the house, but not for long. The Germans arrive and take over, using the farm as a headquarters. Domenic, his sisters and mother find kindness in a fatherly German captain, but when he goes away, a cruel corporal terrorizes them. Both Antonio and Domenic learn the harsh lesson that in war there is no such thing as sanctuary.

     Finally, the battle at Monte Cassino comes to its conclusion, and the Germans retreat. Liberated, Antonio treks back up the valley and fatefully comes upon Domenic's family farm. Domenic and Antonio meet, and, despite having had their youth recently torn from them, they exchange symbolic gifts of hope for the future.

     Domenic's War is written in the third-person omniscient point of view, and, although this affords Parkinson flexibility, the shifts in viewpoint are often mishandled. Unfortunately, this distances readers from the main characters, and, as a result of jolting from person to person, there are times when we are feel somewhat misplaced in space. As well, narrative voice within point of view is inconsistent – young characters often use language they likely would not -- and this keeps readers from wholeheartedly believing in them. The dialogue, at times, seems somewhat suspect of direct authorial insertion in order to further the plot or to conveniently relay information about the war. Furthermore, it is questionable (although not implausible) that Domenic and Antonio escape so physically unscathed and so good-naturedly.

     Nevertheless, there are some lovely descriptions, and the juggling of different languages is impressive and natural. Moreover, if we look at Domenic's War as a means for conveying information about this critical time and, specifically, the battle of Monte Cassino, it does indeed succeed. With a certain immediacy of detail, density of fact, and given situations inherently both intriguing and horrifying (at times, there are very graphic descriptions), it does keep one turning the page. With Domenic's War, Parkinson teaches history in an attention-grabbing manner.

Recommended with reservations.

Caitlin Berry is a graduate of Vermont College's Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She is also a regular reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and is finishing her first novel. She lives on Vancouver Island.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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