Book review: A House In The Mountains, by Catherine Moorehead

In 1943, with two more years of the Second World War still to run, Italy changed sides, shortly after Benito Mussolini was ousted from power. Germany, the country’s former ally, soon became its occupier as it invaded what was now enemy territory. Throughout Italy ordinary people rose up to rebel against the German invaders, their Fascist Italian collaborators, and – in the case of the women documented in Caroline Moorehead’s A House In The Mountains – the social norms and limitations which had been suffocating them for decades.

Caroline Moorehead
Caroline Moorehead

The book is sweeping in its scope, charting the history of the Italian Resistance from its birth in 1943 to the Allied liberation of 1945, following the threads of scores of partisans in separate factions and areas, with different views and methods but ultimately the same common cause.


Moorehead skilfully weaves these threads of individual stories together to create a web of interconnected lives, visiting and revisiting key individuals and relating them to one another.

Hide Ad


The principal focus is on four women, Ada, Frida, Silvia and Bianca, friends who all played key roles in the Resistance in Piedmont in northwest Italy.


This broad narrative is dotted with flashes of detail; the colour of a piece of clothing, the wording of a letter, or the contents of an otherwise unremarkable suitcase. These details bring the stories to life and pull the reader into even more sympathy with the bravery and often harsh fates of the partisans.  

Hide Ad


The book is brutal at times, and Moorehead does not shy away from detailing the atrocious acts of torture and violence carried out by the Fascists. The female partisans were largely kept safe at the beginning of the conflict, and Moorehead documents their heady delight and daring in the face of Germans who woefully underestimated their female adversaries. But towards the end of the war, as the Allies approached and the German occupiers became increasingly desperate, no one was safe. While leaving no doubt as to her sympathy with the partisans, Moorehead is careful to also document their own use of excessive force.  


The lives of the partisans were unrelentingly harsh, facing bitter cold, fatigue and chronic lack of food alongside the threat of violence. But despite these dangers, Moorehead captures a sense of hope and vitality among the women of the Resistance, fighting with courage and determination for a future they believed in. It is, as she points out, an often overlooked story that “needs to be told” – and she tells it well. Elsa Maishman

Hide Ad



A House In The Mountains, by Catherine Moorehead, Chatto & Windus, £20