A Letter from Italy is a romantic story that isn’t just ruled by its heart. It’s a novel inspired by Louise Mack, the first female war correspondent who worked during the First World War. It’s a book that shows how a determined and strong journalist negotiates the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and also through a time of tumultuous change.

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A Flower of the Lips (Un Fior di Labbra) may be a new play by Sydneysider Valentino Musico, but it’s also a love letter. It’s a biographical story about his great-grandfather, Bruno Aloi and is a love letter to this legendary man as well as Musico’s relatives, Calabria and Italy as a whole. This stark and bold play, which has its Australian premiere at the King Street Theatre raises many questions about divided loyalties and offers no easy answers.

This production is the fourth collaboration between Musico and director Ira Seidenstein, and the pair previously worked together on Meat Pies & Mortadella and 25Eight at Tap Gallery. The art direction is by Vince Vozzo, an eight-time finalist of the Wynne Prize. His main contribution is a large charcoal drawing that is the backdrop. This is particularly important as the show’s main character owned a charcoal works and the picture evokes the setting in the early 20th century and shows Italy’s then king, Victor Emmanuel III as well as Aloi’s ghost.

Musico was inspired to write the play after learning of the family legends and mystery surrounding his great-grandfather, Bruno Aloi. The latter’s life was cut short at age 34 and his death was never properly investigated. Aloi had been an informant to the Italian police, revealing the names of deserters from the army during the First World War, even if they were his own family members (and all this despite being a committed family man). This contributed to his being gunned down in his prime and leaving behind a wife and five children.

The show is quite simple. It’s a series of vignettes that reconstruct Aloi’s life and death, or at least what Musico learnt from his family’s memories as well as some archived papers from Italy. Four actors appear on the stage for the duration of the show with Yiss Mill as the actor/author, Musico narrating and signposting each event while Marcella Franco does a good job as the enigmatic Aloi. Michelle De Rosa is excellent, alternating between young male characters, Agostino and the Shepherd Boy as well as Aloi’s feisty wife, Rosaria. Jamila Hall and Kiki Skountzos round out the cast.

The play is full of symbolism but this may be lost on some audiences. The dialogue is peppered with some Italian words, which could make things difficult for individuals that don’t understand the language. The events all transpire in a kind of reverential semi-circle (to represent the church that Aloi built in Calabria) and the actors who are not actively taking part in the scene sit and watch the darkness unfolding. It’s an interesting idea but there are moments where things feel a bit too personal or private so the audience fails to understand the true meaning of the dialogue or feel part of the action.

Burno Aloi was an interesting man and A Flower of the Lips attempts to immortalise him and pay tribute to his legacy. It’s a dark play that poses many moral questions about the boundaries between what’s right and wrong. It’s also a passionate, beautiful and wordy epitaph and celebration of Calabrese Italians from the past, present and future.

Originally published on 9 October 2015 at the following website:

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Giles Waterfield knows a lot about history. This is particularly evident in the independent curator and writer’s fourth novel and historic fiction book, The Iron Necklace. The author of The Long Afternoon has had some excellent ideas while developing this novel but the finished product is let-down by his method of execution as the chapters (while short) are slow, nuanced and occasionally boring.


The story is about a British family and a German family who are brought together by a marriage. After the First World War is declared this sends members of the two clans into a kind of disarray (like the rest of the world). English artist, Irene Benson is forced to grapple with being an enemy in her newly adopted home of Berlin while her brother Mark is a diplomat who is struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality.


Waterfield frequently switches between characters and periods with lots of short chapters but this often makes things rather confusing. A lot of the characters (especially the ancestors in the modern day) are not fully explained or realised. This then makes it hard for the reader to become engaged in the story or to genuinely warm to the storytellers.


Irene’s sister, Sophia is perhaps the most interesting individual but her narrative plays second fiddle to Irene and her husband, Thomas’ one. This is a shame because Sophia is an intriguing, independent woman who is working hard as a nurse on the Western front. Her relationship with her suitor and her parents is one of many to be tested in the chaos that is World War I.


The biggest problem with The Iron Necklace is the frequent use of German dialogue for the characters from this country. This shouldn’t be a problem except that absolutely no English translation is offered. So it’s then left up to the reader to either find their own translation (which means that we may not get the author’s true intentions) or we skip entire paragraphs (which could take important elements out of the story).


The Iron Necklace is a great idea that was letdown by too many characters, points in time and chapters. It means that this book is drowning in detail and fails to be the entertaining family drama or insightful historic narrative it could have been. In short, this is one for people who are fans of World War I and who don’t mind a novel that is presented in a challenging way.


***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: