Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich
(Pub: Odyssey Books, 2015)
**I was provided with an ARC copy of this in exhange for an honest review**
Port of No Return opens in January, 1944 in Fiume, Italy. At this time Fiume sits on the border with Yugoslavia. The Germans are still in Fiume, but the Yugoslavs under Tito are on their way. (There have been long territorial disputes over Fiume throughout history.) The taking of Fiume by the Yugoslavs was the result of days of heavy fighting. Reprisals under the occupying forces were savage.
Initially we meet Contessa and Ettore, a young couple with two children and their indomitable Nonna. Ettore, a mechanic, must work for the Germans in their submarine base in order to support his family. When Tito’s forces invade he is automatically targeted , not only because he is Italian, but because he works for the Germans. Such is the fate of many Italians in Fiume.
The story follows their hardships during wartime, separation and subsequent escape from Fiume. It is a survival story filled with courage, heartache, fear, yet ultimately happiness tinged with loss and grief.
Port of No Return was a real surprise for me as I wasn’t sure how much I was going to enjoy it. This is historic fiction that “rings true” on many levels. Saftich writes well. There is a clear narrator’s voice throughout, something I usually don’t enjoy, however stylistically the tone of narration is easy going – at times, thanks to numerous colloquialisms, conversational . This narration informs the reader of historical events and tells the situation of the characters, but is interspersed with fictionalised vignettes between characters. This it what got me over my initial misgivings. It works brilliantly to give a feel of historical accuracy mixed with immersive storytelling to create a subtly addictive story.
As I read I wondered why certain plot points were not expanded to aid the storytelling. However, the more I read, the more I realised Saftich was showing a delicate restraint and by resisting the urge to sensationalise Port of No Return I suspect she was honouring the memories of family and the others she has interviewed in researching her novel – kudos to her.
Port of No Return lured me into its world. I became attached to the characters and their struggles. I found myself asking “What would I have done?” More importantly it made me think on history, its human toll and its repetition. That is part of the magic of books.