Told through the eyes of Trina, a broken yet resilient mother writing to her missing daughter, I’m Staying Here unfolds the little-known story of the town of Curon in Italy’s South Tyrol province, sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland, where Nazism and Mussolini’s fascism collide.
Trina graduates from high school in 1923 with plans to teach just as Mussolini comes to power and outlaws the use of German as a teaching language. At the same time, old plans for a destructive dam resurface. Young and impetuous, Trina pals around with her friends, pines for an idealistic young farmer named Erich and soon joins an underground network of teachers. She marries Erich and settles into his family’s old farmhouse. By the 1930s, they have two children, Michael and Marica.
Like their families and neighbors, Trina and Erich have only known Curon’s idyllic mountains and pastures. But as World War II looms closer, Mussolini’s and Hitler’s ideologies take root in the villagers’ hearts and minds, dividing neighbors who’ve known each other their whole lives. As the war takes Curon’s men, the dam that will swallow up their town begins to take shape.
Through headstrong, opinionated Trina’s narration, author Marco Balzano voices the anger of a people whose story has been overshadowed in history. Though some nuance has been lost in translation from the Italian and the tense shifts confusingly at times, I’m Staying Here reads like a confessional, conveying raw emotion with a forceful, memorable impact. For Trina and Erich, the pain of compounding losses grows, from the deaths of loved ones to their young daughter’s devastating disappearance, while they witness the terrors of war and the dam’s construction.
Balzano writes convincingly of a woman who has been torn apart by the sacrifices and suffering she’s endured, but who stalwartly carries on. In writing to her lost daughter, Trina attempts to let go. And as Trina’s own mother would tell her, “All we can do is move forward.”