I have previously read and enjoyed Norman Lewis' excellent travel memoir about Indochina, A Dragon Apparent, so I knew I was in for a good read with Naples '44 (1978). It is a compelling account of a British intelligence officer trying to make the best of dire wartime circumstances in Naples during WWII in 1944 before Italy was liberated all together. Some of the things he struggled with were criminal gangs, bandits, vendettas, typhus, black market commerce, the shortage of supply, a lack of justice, and an indifferent bureaucracy. Some of the callous and arbitrary displays of justice morally troubling for Lewis who attempted to find reasonable solutions for draconian sentences for crimes of poverty and desperation. Then there are observations of the Italians, the savage and brutal behavior or the French colonial troops, and challenging living conditions of wartime Italy. There are some great observations throughout, for example:
"Capri, like hashish, is supposed to bring out the demon, whatever its nature, lurking at the bottom of the human heart personality, and people go ashore at the Marina Grande hypnotised in advance by its reputation."
Some of his other duties involved vetting proposed marriages between British soldiers and local women. There fore, there are several franks observations about such unions, prostitution, and the problem of sexually transmitted diseases. There are some humorous passages about his interactions with Canadian troops in Naples as well. Despite all the hardships and the fact that Lewis will never be treated as a member of these tribes of Italy, he is treated very well by the populace in spite of all that he represents and people's mistrust of him. This is all told in a down to earth first person, diary style narrative that is insightful, fascinating, and entertaining at once. It is one of the finest wartime memoirs I have come across.