4 out of 4 stars
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Begging for Chocolates: A Story of WWII in Italy by Richard Allison is an intimate look at a dark time in the history of mankind, concentrating on the American involvement in defeating the Nazis in Italy during World War II.
Captain William "Bill" Allison, Specialist 4th Class Sergeant John L. "Jack" King, Captain John M. Lesesne, and First Lieutenant Richard E. "Dick" Stroud were just some of the Americans stationed in Italy between November 1944 and May 1945. The author brings to life these people's experiences through their personal letters, diaries, and poems to give the readers insights into what was going on in Italy during that time. The author, Richard Allison, is Bill Allison's second-born son. He was actually born during the time Bill was stationed in Italy. While the narrative constantly switches between the main characters’ points of view, Bill’s ponderings are the ones the author is mostly focusing on, which is understandable.
Bill was desperate to go back home to his wife, Dotty, and his son. Christmas and New Year without his family was almost unbearable. The letters received from Dotty and his parents were often the highlight of his entire day. During World War II, letters from home routinely experienced long delays. In return, military personnel could only write about personal things and could mention nothing about affairs of war, or anything that would give away secrets regarding their location to the enemy.
The stories really came to life through the insights, reflections, and musings written by the soldiers while waiting in their barracks for action. They are touching and make us aware that Europe got a lot of help from outside as well. That help included real people with lives put on hold back at home in America.
The photos added throughout the chapters were well chosen: photos or sketches of Bill, Jack, Dick, and John; photos of places (like the streets of Naples during the war); maps of strategic battle locations; and drawings of major events like the Passover Seeder Services, a Jewish ritual feast held at the train station in Florence in March 1945. Seeing the faces of the main characters made me feel I actually knew them. Photos depicting poor Italians shuffling on a street in Naples really conveyed the anguish and pain Italians felt before they were finally liberated.
There were two interesting emotional issues that Bill pointed out regarding the involvement of American soldiers in Europe during that particular time. First, white Americans were not best friends with African-Americans taking part in the same war. And second, American soldiers' attitude towards Italians was quite disdainful.
And here is the result of such a situation:
For many readers, the book is a real eye-opener about America’s important involvement in the war. Most books on the topic detail the Resistance movement, or describe the horrible conditions in the various concentration camps (Dachau or Auschwitz come to mind), or are personal memoirs like Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I realize now that a book such as Begging for Chocolates: A Story of WWII in Italy had to be also written.I soon became aware of two interesting phenomena. First, that the Italian people had suffered a great deal and second, that our troops [African-Americans] had a great deal of empathy for them. The Italian people recognized this and they immediately developed a wonderful rapport which did not exist in the same intensity between the Italians and the white troops.
Regarding grammar, I haven't found any major errors, which means the book is well written and professionally edited. I wouldn’t worry about any grammatical or spelling mistakes within the letters or diary entries themselves, as those documents are now part of history. I give Begging for Chocolates: A Story of WWII in Italy 4 out of 4 stars with a nod to the unsung heroes who came to life in this book, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about the last days of World War II or enjoys reading biographies and books on American history.
Begging for Chocolates
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