Ada Gobetti’s Partisan Diary is an expanded version of the contemporary diary she kept from the day the Germans entered Turin in September 1943 through to liberation. First published in 1956 with an introduction by Italo Calvino, this is the first English translation. Gobetti was not only an extremely brave woman, she was a thoughtful and characterful writer. Partisan Diary is easy, exciting, beautiful and at times chilling to read.
She recounts the mundane and incredible. Preparing dinner for her family and often partisans, cleaning her house, then orchestrating acts of sabotage against the occupiers and their fascist partners. She observes the debates and frustrations of the partisans and political leaders and records the vagaries of the weather, the beauty of the mountains and countryside, her love for her son, often in contrast to round-ups and brutal murders.
A long time anti-fascist, the diary also charts Ada’s journey in the fight for women’s equality as she begins to recognise the importance of women in the struggle, eventually leading a number of important women’s groups and an underground newspaper fighting for not only the liberation of Italy but for the liberation of Italian women. In some of the most moving passages, Ada writes of her grief for mothers whose sons have been killed and of her fears for her son Paolo, himself a partisan.
It is impossible to read Ada’s account of slipping past the fascists to place flowers at the feet of the hanged body of a partisan without surge of emotion and pride. However while the immediacy of her diary makes it an exciting, authentic account, it does not allow for significant reflection and analysis. Gobetti was a liberal, as such she frames the events she describes as an adjunct to “liberation” by the Allied armies rather than as a potential social revolution, which is what it was.
It is a pity that despite being based in Turin, much of Gobetti’s story centres on her and Paolo’s ventures into the local countryside and their second home in Meana. Many of the memoirs that have been published are about the civil war in the countryside because that is where they could operate. Yet the most heroic resistance was in the cities.
When Gobetti was asked what she thought about the celebrations taking place on the anniversary of the Resistance, she replied, “It seems to me that they are wrapping it up with a beautiful label to send it to the museum”. Far too few people know the story of the Italian civil war and even fewer know how brave and decisive the role of Italian women was in that war. It is scandalous that such an important book has taken so long to be translated. Hopefully it is a presage of a closer interest in the partisans and the role of the women — unquestionably one of the epic moments in 20th century working class history.