Do you ever 'pair' your books up? Maybe read a historical novel set in Paris and then follow up with a good nonfiction book about the same place and period? I like doing this, or thinking about it anyway. I just started reading Iris Origo's War in the Val D'Orcia: An Italian War Diary 1943-1944 (I'm not going to jinx myself by adding it to my sidebar until I am at least fifty pages in and sure I'm going to stick with it), which is about the wartime experiences of an Anglo-American woman who married an Italian and was living in Tuscany during WWII.
Her experiences of living in an adopted country while at war with her country of origin brought to mind another book of wartime experiences: The Past is Myselfby Christabel Bielenberg (reissued by University of Nebraska Press under the title When I Was a German, 1934-1945), which I read years ago in my pre-blogging days. It's a book I wouldn't mind rereading. Christabel, an Englishwoman, was married to a German lawyer and lived as a German citizen during WWII. I recall it being a fascinating read and an unusual perspective on life in Germany in the run up to and during the war. Of course I have since forgotten all the details otherwise.
War in Val D'Orciais actually an excellent pairing with Elsa Morante's History: A Novel, which I am also working on. Origo was living with her family on a large farm in southern Tuscany when war broke out, though in her valley she was quite cut off from the rest of the country and perhaps fared better than those in bigger cities at least initially. Food and other supplies were more abundant until the Germans occupied the northern and central regions of Italy towards the end of the war. Not only did the family need to deal with the broader war but by then civil war had also broke out in Italy. She and her family took in child refugees from Genoa and Turin which had been heavily bombed and would often help Allied soldiers and regular Italians and partisans who were in need or wounded.
I don't know much about modern Italian history and I find I am quite ignorant of politics I hate to admit, even those during the war (I seem to always read books from an American or even more so British perspective), so reading these books (History is set in Rome whose occupants suffered greatly from food shortages and bombing) has been very enlightening. I'm sure I'll share more as I go and am hoping I've settled in a bit when it comes to choosing a good nonfiction book to focus on. I've been enjoying the Italian crime fiction I've been reading and think I'll expand things a bit and try and choose some classics and modern novels by Italian authors to read as well.
I'd also be curious if anyone has other recommendations of books similar to these two--memoirs about the war, but perhaps from alternative perspectives? Suggestions always appreciated.