Friday, February 24, 2017

Currently Reading: "Road to Valor"

By Fulgur Photo-Press. Fotograaf onbekend/Unknown photographer. Collectie SPAARNESTAD PHOTO [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Currently Reading: Road to Valor

Jennifer E. Miller

Writing is a struggle these days. I'm at 28,000 words or so in a story, but I am frequently running into writers block. I feel as though I am simply telling a story rather than taking the reader on a journey. In order to jazz up my brain cells, I decided to pick up a book. (I find reading stimulates my creativity.) I choose Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation. 

Somewhere in the internet world, I came across a short video about Gino Bartali, a famous Italian cyclist who used his athletic skills and celebrity to secretly transfer forged identity documents to save his Jewish friends from the Nazis. I'd never heard of Gino Bartali, but then again the only cyclist I'm familiar with is Lance Armstrong. His story sounded interesting and I wanted to learn more.

I'm about a third of the way through the book. Much of the first part discusses Gino Bartali's cycling career and upbringing. As it's a book written based off research, I will admit there were a few confusing parts; but not many. The authors do a good job weaving in the effect of the Fascist Nazi regime as he moves on with everyday life. I bring this up because I hear that word, fascist, thrown around a lot lately. Too loosely, in fact. I understand that many people do not like our new president, but calling our government fascist is far from what the word means. And judging by what Europeans went through coming in to WWII, it's a distant distant cry. 

Mussolini and his government controlled everything in Italy. The government only allowed what they approved in newspapers. Anyone outspoken against the regime was arrested. Sports became political. Cyclists had to show their patronage to the regime by wearing racing jerseys with the Nazi symbol on it. By the time Hilter became involved with Italy, professional cycling dwindled. Very few races were organized. Partly because athletes were drafted into the military, including Gino Bartali, but also because race winners were forced to give up their prize money to the military. Food was scarce as it was rationed for soldiers. 

We do not live in a such a fascist environment today. People are free to speak against our leaders, if they so choose. When was the last time an American was forced to hand over all of their earnings to the government? Food is not scarce; obesity is endemic. And in no way is any ethnic group being rounded up for extermination. While not its central focus, stories, such as Road to Valor, are an important reminder to what harsh words like "fascism" and "racism" actually mean. Are there places in the world where these still happen? Sure. But not via the US government, as some people lead us to believe. 

Other than Anne Frank's story, I don't hear about many WWII Jewish rescue efforts. I look forward to how the rest of Road to Valor unfolds, and if Gino Bartali successfully saves his friends. When I last left off, he cycled into a Italian village with a main train station littered with Nazi soldiers. His celebrity status caused a diversion. Citizens wanted his autograph; so did the soldiers. They left their posts at the station, buying the Jews a few precious minutes to switch trains unnoticed. Hooks you in, huh? 

Copyright 2017 by Jennifer E. Miller

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