A Chill in the AirAn Italian War Diary, 1939–1940
by Iris Origo, introduction by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
An NYRB Classics Original
War in Italy in 1939 was by no means necessary or even beneficial to the country. But in June 1940, Mussolini finally declared war on Britain and France. The awful inevitability with which Italy stumbled its way into a war for which they were ill prepared and largely unenthusiastic is documented here with grace and clarity by one of the twentieth century’s great diarists.
This diary, which has never been published and was recently found in Iris Origo’s archives, is the sad and arresting account of the grim absurdities that Italy and the world underwent as war became more and more unavoidable. Origo, British-born and living in Italy, was ideally placed to record the events. Extremely engaged with the world around her, connected to people from all areas of society (from the peasants on her estate to the US ambassador to Italy), she writes of the turmoil, the danger, and the bleakness of Italy in 1939 and 1940, as war went from a possibility to a dreadful reality.
A Chill in the Air covers the beginning of a war whose catastrophic effects are documented in Origo’s bestselling War in Val D’Orcia.
A gripping insight into the period leading up to the summer of 1940, when Mussolini aligned with Hitler against the Allies...[Origo] kept this diary as a record of what she learnt from gossip, hearsay, newspaper reports and the foreign radio broadcasts she tuned into, in an attempt to cut through the propaganda and piece together the true global picture.
What Iris Origo captures here, poignantly and with great clarity, is the silence that falls when peacetime debate is replaced by the brute simplicity of armed combat.
A Chill in the Air proves Origo a strikingly attentive and perceptive chronicler of ordinary people and everyday life during extraordinary times.
—The National (UK)
Origo’s compelling and illuminating journal is a potent blend of sifted news reports, collected rumours and collated views. In and around this, Origo sprinkles her own shrewd reflections, keen-eyed observations and ever-increasing doubts.
—The Herald (UK)
This volume, a worthy counterpart to War in the Val d’Orcia, focuses on Mussolini’s fatal miscalculation that, heedless of the dangers for Italy, he could side with Hitler to extract maximum profit from a German victory. Origo decided in March 1939 to keep the diary to help her remain ‘steady’ as the government of her adopted homeland became increasingly hostile to her two countries of origin.