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To help you decide whether to dive into the series at Part 3 or Part 1, a series of extracts have been provided. Links for the rest of the extracts are below.
Bolzano, February 1937
Walther’s head was still missing, and anyone who was not already familiar with the sight would likely find it disconcerting.
Angelo stopped on the edge of the piazza to further assess the beheaded statue of the medieval German poet. Dirty mounds of snow were heaped up around the six-metre-tall pedestal. Tinged greyish-green from exposure, the statue’s marble cape was chipped and cracked at the neck from angry blows. The way the sculpted hands were folded over the robe—the left one clasping the neck of a lute—and how the right foot was set slightly forward, lent the statue an air of indignation. Walther von der Vogelweide was forever demanding someone return his missing boccaletto, his noggin. It had been quite some time since the Fascist mob had lobbed it off. That the city’s politicians were still arguing over where to relocate the ruins spoke volumes about the condition the city was in.
As Angelo continued walking to the Bolzano train station, he imagined what Stefano Accosi would see and react to first. Turning the corner, the pale-yellow walls of the Laurin Hotel rose ahead and, with them, Angelo’s anxiety about meeting his former chief engineer. Twelve years had gone by with little more than Angelo’s letter of apology and the plea for Stefano to return—and a curt but polite reply from Stefano that he would.
As Angelo passed the art nouveau hotel, he noted the mildew streaks on the foundation, how sun-bleached the ruffle of the yellow-and-white-striped awning was.
Neglect. Stefano would see neglect. But Angelo could not imagine things were much different in any other Italian city these days, except that Bolzano was still filled with Tyroleans. Tyroleans who believed the province was still rightfully theirs.
They were wrong.
The train from Verona was to arrive at Platform 1. Angelo considered again the various ways Stefano might greet him. If Stefano behaved indifferently, closed off even, Angelo would have reason to worry about being able to accomplish what he had in mind. It had taken all this time for Angelo to appreciate the former chief engineer, not only as a loyal ally within the ministry but as quite possibly one of the few friends he’d ever had. Allowing Stefano to be his scapegoat so that Angelo could keep his position had probably been one of the worst of many bad decisions in his career. He needed Stefano now more than ever, needed the intelligent, insightful, and considerate man. Most of all, he needed a forgiving man.
He checked the clock. The train was ten minutes late. Across the track and beyond the fence was a landscape of factories. It contained the plane engines manufacturer, a flour mill, a cotton mill, the quarry’s factory, the aluminium factory—at least twenty-five buildings had cropped up in the last few years, all fashioned to Mussolini’s architectural standards: slick, symmetrical, Roman. The stink of dust, grease, tar, and soot had become commonplace. Where once the valley had drawn migrant workers to its vibrant vineyards and apple orchards, now the attraction was the billowing chimneys. Sulphur-yellow veils drifted up and over the massif the locals called the Rose Garden.
In the middle of the squat factories rose a six-story pillar of modernism. Monte Fulmini Electrical—MFE. The Colonel’s new company. Windows on every floor kept watch over the grinding and hissing huddle below.
Everything the Colonel was to this city—power—was contained in that building. The signage was new. The colours of the letters MFE alternated black, red, black, with a silver bolt of lightning through them. Angelo imagined the Colonel inside, almost seventy, balding and slightly angled over the paunch of his belly. Other than the physical signs of ageing, Colonel Grimani would not be slowing down anytime soon. He’d be surrounded by his investors and supporters, planning his next move—the biggest dam he could build. A dam that would provide electricity to exactly the kinds of industries that surrounded his new building. And the Colonel would be planning the manoeuvres that would divert around Angelo’s ministry in order to build it.
There was a click followed by static on the loudspeaker, and the train rounded the bend. Even from a distance, Angelo could tell it was packed with people. Elbows, arms, and hands jutted out the windows, and as it drew closer, the end of a yellow scarf fluttered on the breeze. The train hissed to a stop, and passengers spilled out onto the platform. A chorus of Italian dialects rose as people sought one another out. He imagined entire families—peasants from as far as Sicily—had become disengaged as they’d boarded their northbound connections. These were the Italians who had been hardest hit during the depression and were now flocking to the former Tyrolean province where more opportunities lay in wait.
Stefano Accosi would tower over these people. When Angelo did not spot him right away, he watched a group converging nearby. They were all men who would probably send for their wives and children once they secured positions and received their first paycheques. They wore chequed jackets in a variety of earth-tone colours, and beneath the coppolas on their heads, their faces were masks of mistrust and strain. No doubt they envisioned hordes of Tyroleans just around the corner, waiting to attack them with axes and picks as depicted in anti-German propaganda. Yet as the train pulled away and unveiled the industrial zone before them, there was something like a cheer that rose from the new arrivals. This was what they’d come for, as if silk and perfume were being spun out of those smokestacks instead of cheap labour, sweat, and—Angelo’s eyes landed on the MFE logo—exploitation.
He’d been a part of that, once. No more.
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A sample chapter of No Man's Land: Part 1 is available here.
Bolzano: Extract 2/5
Bolzano: Extract 3/5
Bolzano: Extract 4/5
Bolzano: Extract 5/5