Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Guest Post: The Italian Couple by J. R. Rogers

Please join me in welcoming J.R. Rogers to Let Them Read Books! I'm happy to have J.R. here today with a guest post about La Teleferica Massaua-Asmara, an engineering marvel that played a pivotal role in Italy in World War II and plays a pivotal role in J.R.'s newest historical novel, The Italian Couple.

Colonel Francesco Ferrazza, a disciplined and inflexible Royal Italian Army officer with Italy’s Fascist Military Information Service, and his attractive British wife, Emilia, are posted to Asmara affectionately referred to as ‘Little Rome’ by Mussolini. The colonel is a familiar figure at the military casino and bordello where he brags at the bar he can bend a fireplace poker in half. But he is astonished when in 1938 he is ordered by his Rome superior to set in motion an unusual but clandestine sabotage operation of the engineering marvel that is the Asmara-Massawa cableway that links Italian Eritrea to the sea.

Built by the Italians it is the longest aerial line of its kind in the world but it is of such strategic importance the army comes to realize they may have made a strategic mistake in constructing it. They fear it could fall into the hands of neighboring Ethiopia—whom they defeated in a colonial war just two years ago.

Fearful of the devastating power of exposure Ferrazza sets out to find someone to carry out Operation Red Lion and meets Mario Caparrotti, an amateur race car driver. He plans to compete in the first Christmas Day automobile race through town.

Greedy, boastful, and ignorant, Caparrotti is all of the things the colonel detests in his fellow human beings, civilians in particular. But Ferrazza is desperate to recruit him because he is a cableway mechanic who has unfettered access to the engine room. The colonel entices him with his wife. Prodded by her husband the reluctant Emilia unhappily plays her part by becoming Caparrotti’s lover.

But things begin to fall apart: Caparrotti balks and now also demands significant sums of cash and when the colonel murders a colonial civil servant who has somehow learned of the plot he orders Caparrotti to help him dispose of the body. With the driver more reluctant than ever, and with the deadline drawing nearer, the colonel will do anything to ensure the sabotage is carried out.

Unexpectedly, Gyles Aiscroft, a Rome-based British freelance foreign correspondent, and an old family friend of Emilia’s parents arrives in Asmara. Her father, Edmund Playfair, the senior intelligence officer at the British embassy in Rome, has asked Aiscroft to look in on her. An older man, she finds herself drawn to him and confides her plight to him. They embark on a brief, intense affair. But what she doesn’t count on is his falling in love with her and wanting to whisk her off to Capri.

Determined to leave Africa with his mission complete, and with the deadline almost upon him, Ferrazza instructs the resigned and fearful Caparrotti how to go about setting the dynamite charges.
And as the tick-tock of the clock counts down the final hours the colonel belatedly begins to grasp that in ‘Little Rome’ nothing is what it seems, no one can be trusted and, when serving Mussolini, failure will never be condoned.

The Influence of Asmara's Teleferica on the Arc of the Story in The Italian Couple 
by J. R. Rogers

Any story set in late 1930s Asmara, Italian Eritrea would be remiss if it ignored the influence over the town of what was then referred to as the teleferica, or more properly, La Teleferica Massaua-Asmara.

The principal engine plant that powered the longest aerial tramway ever constructed anywhere in the world at the time was situated on the road to Godaif, a short distance southwest of Asmara, the short single asphalt runaway of the airport like a dark gash in the land visible nearby. An engineering marvel built by Italians it was opened in 1937 to great fanfare—though in my novel I took literary license and moved the opening date to 1938.

The day before the plant was put into operation a map showing the line’s trajectory had been put on display and everyone stopped to take a look at it: newly hired employees, the Italian colonialist eager to view up close what they had been hearing about for the last year, town officials, the local press, industrialists and experts from Italy, Germany, and Belgium in town to appraise the wondrous feat of engineering. There was even a woman reporter whose presence had many wondering whom she wrote for. It developed she represented Italy’s national Socialist daily l’Avanti! now edited in exile from Paris and once edited by Mussolini himself.

The teleferica’s intended purpose was to move food, supplies, and war materiel for the Imperial Italian Army from the colony’s Red Sea seaport in Massawa some 44 miles away to Asmara 7,600 feet above sea level.

The line played a pivotal role in my plot-driven novel because as one of eight teleferica motor mechanics my antagonist, Mario Caparrotti, is employed to maintain the oil-powered diesel engines that drive the drawing cable connected to a giant wheel, but also to inspect and maintain the seven cable pick-up relay engines along the route. As such he became the perfect destructive arm of my protagonist, Francesco Ferrazza, a colonel in the Royal Italian Army, stationed in Asmara and his British wife, Emilia, who had unhappily accompanied her husband.

The story line I developed had Ferrazza instructed by Rome to clandestinely destroy the teleferica. He was not told why but infers it is a political decision reached in Rome; the neighboring Ethiopians are restless following their earlier defeat by the Italians and the few details he gathers suggests the army is concerned the line could be compromised.

Ferrazza meets Caparrotti at a car show —a race car aficionado in his spare time he intends to compete in a first ever race through town. The driver is charmed by Emilia and makes no pretense of his interest in her though her interest in him is not returned. Later when the colonel receives his orders he recalls where Caparrotti is employed and sets about crafting a highly unorthodox but time-tested way of manipulating him to set the dynamite charges to destroy the engine room that powers the line.

After World War Two the teleferica was dismantled by the British Military Administration who occupied Italian Eritrea, and the diesel engines, the steel cables, and other parts were sold off to help pay for war reparations. The nearly 500 iron cable towers that stretched from the highlands to the sea stood until the mid 1980s before they, too, were finally pulled down and scrapped.

About the Author:

J.R. Rogers is a literary historical thriller novelist of foreign intrigue and espionage. He has written seven novels in this genre. Far away settings and exotic locales that have caught his attention and became the setting for his novels have included Cayenne, former French Guiana; Montevideo, Uruguay; Dinard, France; Famagusta, Northern Cyprus; Novorossiysk, Russia and Asmara, former Italian Eritrea, the setting for his latest novel. His new project is set in Paris, Lisbon and Lourenço Marques, the former capital of neutral Portuguese East Africa.

He is also a prolific short story writer a number of which have been published in various literary publications and/or online sites, including Steam Ticket: A Third Coast Review; The Legendary; The Copperfield Review; Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine; Driftwood Press Literary Journal; River & South Review, and others.

He is a member of IAN. Visit J.R. Rogers’ website and Amazon page. Follow him on his Twitter author and novel pages and Pinterest.

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