Frankie (short for Francesca) is a late-20-, early-30-something woman who lives in contemporary Wales. She has two children and a rather worthless husband. We meet Frankie as she is considering, and coming very close to, earning desperately needed money by becoming an occasional prostitute. She doesn’t quite get there, fortunately. Her much older friend Tony, orphaned as a baby and adopted into Frankie’s family, knows what she’s been up to and admonishes her. Tony isn’t as old as her parents but he’s considerably older than Frankie, and he’s a kind of loving uncle.
Chiara is a teenager living in Italy, at the time of Mussolini’s consolidation of power in the 1920s and early 1930s. Enrico, a man from their village, has returned from England, where he’s been making a good living for himself and is seeking to employ a young person to help him. Eventually, he’s hoping this young person might become his wife. Chiara, seeing little in the way of work in her hometown, heads to England as well. Once she arrives, she learns things have changed: Enrico has lost his job and has decided to start his own business in Wales.
What these two women have in common is their Welsh-Italian background and the fact they both keep a journal. Slowly we come to understand that two women, generations apart, are writing their journals to each other, even though they don’t know of each other’s existence. But their lives are inextricably connected, and we don’t see all of the connections until the very end of the story.
Hear the Echo by novelist and screenwriter Rob Gittins is a fascinating story of personal history, how it intersects with national and international events, and how Italian emigrants to the U.K. navigated the culture, the internments of World War II, and their own family dramas.
Gittins has written two biographical novels about the poet Dylan Thomas, The Poet and the Private Eye (2014) and The Last Days of Dylan Thomas (1987). His other novels include Gimme Shelter (2013), Secret Shelter (2015), and Investigating Mr. Wakefield (2016). Gittins is also a screenwriter, having written for such well-known television series as “East Enders” and “Vera.”
Hear the Echois family saga, contemporary novel, and more than a little mystery all mixed together in a moving, satisfying, and ultimately tender read.
Top photograph: An Italian store in Wales about 1930.