Friday, 30 May 2014

Giovanna and Jane by Iris Origo (1950)

Neglected blog - that's the most difficult thing I find about publishing. I'm happy to source books and hear from readers with suggested titles, but regularly updating about what I'm reading feels odd and a bit boastful. However, I must make a bit of time for the blog.

Publishing news first. Sadly, I'm not going to BEA in New York this year to join the friendly scrum and get lost in the Javits Center for days. I was tempted, especially to go and see Alan Cumming launch his autobiography and book tickets to Cabaret at Studio 54. There will be other years and it's not as though I've read all of the books I dragged home last year just yet. I rationed myself to books I could carry and I think that was the right decision. It gave me more time to do touristy things afterwards rather than queue in the Post Office. A trip on the Staten Island ferry is far more interesting than packing a box of books and joining a post office queue. They're long enough in England and I don't expect an American queue to be any shorter. Though there might have been air-conditioning. Highlights were The Rosie Project, The Gin Lovers and Queen's Gambit.

As to reading, I found a very nice curiosity in Giovanna and Jane (1950). It looks as though Iris Origo wrote only one book for children, but concentrated essays and autobiographies relating to Italy. This story is dedicated to her two daughters.

I found this on a book hunt and was drawn to the portraits on the cover. Two heads in profile of very different little girls. Jane and Giovanna is a two-part story of girls experiencing a cultural exchange between England and Italy. Each grew up during the war with a PoW helping the family, so were drawn to the other culture. After the war the two girls see a competition advertised and win a homestay with a family abroad. Their adventures as they exchange Italy for England and vice versa are lovely. Both begin their adventures after realising the country they've been introduced to isn't the country stories had led them to expect and reject their placement families to seek out the PoWs who had kept in touch with their host families. The book tells the story of each girl separately - only uniting them at the end of the novel when they are shown to be friends at first sight. I loved this - especially the portraits of Rome and Siena.

It's a fascinating story set in more innocent times certainly, but the usual preference for country life over town life is shown. It's a common attitude in children's fiction that London (or town life) is somehow bad for you and life is better in the country. That's partly why I published Five Farthings - to show how beautiful, exciting (and, yes, expensive, grubby and busy) it can be. London, at least in Five Farthings, is the city centre, so St Paul's, Covent Garden, hopping on to routemasters, bustling life, getting by on a budget and the City's publishing houses before they moved into Euston and Bloomsbury.