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.
MY INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
1. When did you know that you wanted to be an author?
I’ve wanted to be an author since I was very small. I probably wasn’t much older than six when I first started writing stories and cartoon strips in exercise books. I remember penning my first thriller, entitled ‘Smith in the Larder’, when I was at junior school. I even went to the library and copied a photograph of a revolver to illustrate the cover. The escapism of writing has always given me great pleasure and I continued to write short stories and plays throughout my school years.
I wrote my first full-length novel in my late teens and re-visited it in my early twenties. I never made any moves towards having it published, which undoubtedly saved me a great deal of embarrassment. I would imagine that if I read it now, I would cringe. It was around 100,000 words long and approximately 80,000 of those words were adjectives.
Throughout my adult life I’ve always had a novel simmering away in my imagination, even if I haven’t been physically writing it. I only began to take writing seriously in my early forties, when the volume of ideas in my head had grown so enormous that I had to give them an outlet. Hence Paradiso and its sequel, Return to Paradiso, were born.
2. What inspired you to write this book?
My Italian grandparents were the starting point. The earlier part of the 20th century is an era which fascinates me, in part because I feel I have a caught a glimpse of it through my grandparents and through some experiences during my very early childhood.
I have vivid memories of visiting my grandfather’s aunts in the house on which Paradiso is based. Although our visits were during the 1970s, the way they lived had changed very little since the end of WW2. Water for the house 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 is something very simple but very hard about the way they lived, and I find a great deal of inspiration in that.
3. If you could sell this book in one sentence what would it be?
As Italy emerges from the turmoil of war, one girl’s story of courage and secrets unfolds.
4. What are you up to next?
I’m in the throes of finishing a novel, entitled ‘A Tale of Familiar Strangers’, which is set during the same historical era as the Paradiso novels, but is darker and grittier and set in part amongst the orphanages and brothels of the city of Bologna. It is a story of tragic misunderstandings, forgiveness and redemption. Amongst other things, it explores the theme of separation between mothers and children.
Once that is complete I’ll be turning my attention back to the Paradiso series, although the third book will not be a direct continuation of the current story. It will be the story of one of the other characters. As for which character that might be, I’m going to maintain a veil of mystery as to their identity, but there are some little clues in both Paradiso and Return to Paradiso about their back-story.
5. Who is your biggest inspiration?
For my writing, Alberto Moravia, Italo Calvino and Giovanni Guareschi, who are three of Italy’s most acclaimed 20th century novelists, provide enormous inspiration. Reading their books and short stories, which were contemporary literature at the time they were written, has given me huge insight into the attitudes, expectations and social norms of the time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.