Her Name's Not Cruella De Vil
Publisher: Il Battello a Vapore
This book starts as a garrulous tale of teenage angst and turns into a slower-paced, dramatic account of life in fascist Italy and Stalinist Russia. The young narrator, Katia, tells how she used to be at odds with her world and how misplaced anger led her to vandalise the property of an elderly lady. Her friends are sent on work placements but Katia is ordered to visit their victim, the elderly Olga Mautino.
The two strike up an unlikely friendship and the old lady introduces Katia to opera music and Tolstoy. Over Italian ice cream in elegant cafes, Olga recounts how her family fled Italy for Russia, only to end up persecuted and separated for ever. As Katia journeys into a dark period of history that she knew nothing about, and hears the painful details of Olga's past, she finds the clarity and peace she needs to deal with her own present.
The uplifting ending - Katia ultimately accepts Olga's request to write down her story - is as gentle as the times they spend together. The literary flourishes from Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko make the sentiments expressed by elderly Olga all the more compelling.
Original Title: Non chiamatela Crudelia Demon