Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Champion Cyclist Against the Nazis: The Incredible Life of Gino Bartali

A Champion Cyclist Against the Nazis is the true story of cycling legend Gino Bartali's resistance work during WW2. Originally published in Italian in 2018, this English language translation from Pen & Sword is due out later this summer. It's 192 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

Looking around at so much of the behaviour of my fellow humans during the course of this pandemic, I've seen heroic and selfless actions as well as petty, racist, and violent ones. I've often found myself wondering what makes people react the way they do. From all the documentation of his life and according to interviews with his friends and family, Bartali was an exceptionally ethical man. He was well respected and decorated as an athlete, and yet decided to act on his conscience at the risk of imprisonment or worse and deliver falsified documents which likely saved the lives of 800 Italian Jews.

This book manages to discuss politics, racism, and sports without ever being strident or preachy. I found the details fascinating. My family are cycling enthusiasts and we never miss the summer cycling events (except this summer of course, and we are missing them keenly). I'd heard of Bartali but only in terms of his records and stunning career, never in terms of his wartime work for the resistance.

A lot of historical biographies have a tendency to concentrate overmuch on the dates and times and facts at the cost of the narrative flow and human-ness of the story. This author is quite gifted at emphasizing the personal story of Bartali and his family and colleagues whilst remaining true to the known facts and weaving them into historical context. I was also impressed at the quality of the translation work. It doesn't read like a work in translation and I didn't get yanked out of the story by awkwardly constructed writing.

There are black and white photographs sprinkled throughout the book which I also enjoyed seeing. Overall impression: quite interesting biography of a legendary athlete who stayed true to his conscience. He was a brilliant cyclist and a good human.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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