The Girl from Portofino
By Siobhan Daiko
Publication Date: 30th December 2021
Publisher: Asolando Books
Page Length: 300 Pages
Genre: Women’s Historical Fiction/29th Century Historical/World War 2 Historical
In 1970 Gina Bianchi returns to Portofino to attend her father’s funeral, accompanied by her troubled twenty-four-year-old daughter, Hope. There, Gina is beset by vivid memories of World War 2, a time when she fought with the Italian Resistance and her twin sister, Adele, worked for the Germans.
In her childhood bedroom, Gina reads Adele’s diary, left behind during the war. As Gina learns the devastating truth about her sister, she’s compelled to face the harsh brutality of her own past. Will she finally lay her demons to rest, or will they end up destroying her and the family she loves?
A hauntingly epic read that will sweep you away to the beauty of the Italian Riviera and the rugged mountains of its hinterland. “The Girl from Portofino” is a story about heart-wrenching loss and uplifting courage, love, loyalty, and secrets untold.
Gina’s heels tip-tapped on the tiled marble floor as she approached the corner table in the Magnifico’s Terrazza Restaurant. Six tedeschi officers. She groaned to herself. The Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS were using the hotel as a rest and recreation centre, billeting their top brass in the seventy rooms and suites. Gone were the days when she would serve illustrious visitors here. Since the German occupation had begun six months ago, the hotel had been occupied by people whom she could only describe as “pigs”.
Tonight’s “pigs” were well on their way to a state of complete drunkenness. They’d started with negroni cocktails in the bar, followed by glass after glass of Vermentino white wine to accompany their meal.
Delicious food they’d barely touched so intent had they been on drinking. She’d served them Chef’s signature Pansoti in Salsa di Noci—ravioli filled with herbs and vegetables in a walnut sauce—and a main course of Scaloppa di Branzino con Pinoli e Olive—roasted sea bass with olives and pine nuts. She was hungry—she was always hungry these days—and it made her fume when she saw how much food the officers had left on their plates.
Gina suppressed a sigh. There was a ration system in Portofino, but seldom were there the goods available to fulfil it. Babbo and the other fishermen did what they could to satisfy the hunger of the inhabitants, but after the nazifascisti had appropriated more than their fair share, and others had purchased any surplus on the black market, the local population were only left with scraps. Gina would have loved to have eaten her fill in the Magnifico’s restaurant. Instead, she had to be content with the bowl of plain pasta provided for staff at the beginning of their shifts.
The guttural German language echoed from the other tables; the restaurant was full tonight. Gina juggled her tray with dexterity as she placed a decanter and six brandy glasses on the crisp, white tablecloth. Amazonian in stature, her body was strong, her calves ribbons of muscle from walking and cycling, her hips and arms firm from swimming. But that didn’t stop the tedeschi from considering her “fair game”.
As she bent to clear the table, she felt the black skirt of her hotel uniform tighten across the soft flesh of her buttocks. Then, out of the blue, a hand came down and gave her bottom a squeeze.
She leapt back with a growl, and a plate crashed to the floor.
Six sets of glazed, drunken eyes roamed over her. The officers, fair-haired, blue-eyed, dressed in their identical navy uniforms, all looked alike. Except for one. A livid scar ran down the left-hand side of his face. He lurched drunkenly to his feet, stepped towards her, and grinned lasciviously.
‘Bella signorina,’ he slurred, grabbing her around the waist and aiming a wet kiss at her lips. ‘You want a good time?’ He chuckled. ‘I’ll show you a good time.’
‘No grazie,’ she squirmed from his grasp, her skin crawling with revulsion. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
The despicable man’s fellow-officers laughed uproariously, as if it was the funniest sight they’d ever witnessed.
Mortified, Gina picked up the broken plate, then straightened her shoulders. She gripped her tray tightly and turned on her heel.
The tedeschi clinked their glasses behind her, ‘Heil Hitler,’ they chorused before bursting into an inebriated song.
Es ist so schoen Soldat zu sein
Officers at the other tables contributed their voices raucously as Gina left the dining room, anger fizzing in her chest. If she hadn’t been carrying a tray, she might well have made her favourite rude sign at them, damn the consequences.
Hands held out at waist level. Thumbs stuck out and index fingers spaced away from each thumb. The gesture literally meant, “I'll kick you so hard your arse cheeks will end up this far apart.” Gina smirked to herself. She’d always been told she was the rougher of the twins. But she was a fisherman’s daughter; she wouldn’t think of pretending otherwise. Her language and gestures were those of her environment; she’d never take on airs and graces like Adele.
After carrying the tray through to the kitchen, she went to look for her best friend, Stefano.
She found him in the break room, smoking a Macedonia cigarette. He only needed to glance at her to understand what had just happened. ‘Did one of those maiali, pigs, try it on?’ he snarled.
Tonight wasn’t the first time Gina had been groped by a German. Many of the tedeschi seemed to believe they had “lord’s rights” over the female staff. A few of her workmates had agreed to the so-called “good time” in return for extra rations for their families. Gina gritted her teeth; she would never say yes to a Nazi; doing so would go against everything she believed about herself. She might be street wise, but she wasn’t a street slut.
‘I coped,’ she told Stefano. ‘But I don’t think I can take much more of having to fend off those pigs. Tonight I really wanted to fight back.’
Stefano raked a hand through his thick, chestnut brown hair. His gaze darted around the room before it settled on her. ‘I’ve been called up to serve in Mussolini’s Army.’ He paused. ‘I’d rather boil my head in oil than become a repubblichino.’
She reached across the space between them and gave him a quick hug. He was tall—over six foot—and his wide cheekbones and finely chiselled jaw gave him an almost too-handsome-to-be-real appearance. Her friends fancied him like crazy, but she loved him like she loved her brother. ‘What will you do?’ she asked.
‘I’ve decided to join the partigiani in the mountains.’ He gave her an encouraging smile. ‘Why don’t you come with me? They need girls like you to act as stafette.’
She helped herself to a cigarette from the precious pack he’d bought on the black market; they always shared their cigs. ‘I’m too fierce to be a simple messenger, you know I am.’ Gina’s physical prowess meant she could hold her own against most boys her age. ‘I’d want to be treated like one of the men.’
Stefano barked out a laugh. ‘I’m sure they’ll agree to have you, once they know what you’re like,’ he winked.
They sat in silence, smoking. Gina wondered how her parents would react when she told them she was leaving home.
Not just leaving home. But leaving to become a freedom fighter.
The thought of it sparked a thrill of anticipation deep in her belly.
She checked her watch. ‘Our shift is over. Let’s go.’
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Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and two rescued cats. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time, when she isn't writing, enjoying her life near Venice.
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx