Review: Mussolini’s Island by Sarah Day


An engrossing tale of love and betrayal in 1930s Italy

About the Book

Publisher’s description: Seductive, moving and full of insight into the desperate acts committed by individuals when fighting for their lives, Mussolini’s Island is a novel of sexuality and desire, and the secrets we keep locked within us.

My Review

It’s 1938 and Mussolini is in power in Italy. Under the Fascists, homosexuality is viewed as a contagion, a disease that is weakening the manhood of the Italian nation. Like other gay men – or femminella in the local slangFrancesco is in danger of arrest and ‘confino’ (internment) by the authorities. But he has another secret. Because of his father’s political views, Francesco and his mother were forced to leave their home and adopt a new identity and Francesco has vowed to do whatever it takes to protect her and their true identity.   When Francesco and other femminella, including his lover Emilio, are rounded up by the authorities and confined on the island of San Domino, it creates an atmosphere of mutual suspicion within the group as they search for the source of the betrayal.

In telling the story of Francesco and the other internees (a story based on actual events), the novel explores what people will do in order to survive and to protect the ones they love. As the novel progresses, the actions Francesco is forced to take and the insidious message that his sexuality is a ‘contagion’, make him begin to question his own nature:

“It was something within himself, something weak, something of women that should never have been there, so close to his heart, to the core of what he was. Something that made him a coward.”

The internment of the femminella on the island also brings consequences for the inhabitants of San DominoThe story is partly told through the eyes of Elena, a young island girl, who is drawn to the handsome Francesco but cannot understand why her family try to keep her away from him and the other internees. Ironically, internment on the island enables the femminella to more openly express their sexuality than they could before.

Mussolinis Island is a fascinating insight into a little known period of Italian history but it is also the story of the love between Francesco and Emilio. Although their relationship is clearly sexual, it is the romantic love and deep friendship between them that is the focus. I really enjoyed the book – like the best historical fiction it brought to life actual events in an engaging and entertaining way. I thought this was an impressive debut.

If you are interested in finding out more, this article provides some historical background to the story.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Headline/Tinder Press, in return for an honest review.

Book facts: 384 pages, publication date 23rd February 2017

My rating: 4 (out of 5)

In three words: Romantic, fascinating, well-researched

Try something similar…The Island by Victoria Hislop

About the Author

Sarah Day lives in London, where she works as a science communicator at the Geological Society. She has written columns for a variety of publications, including the Guardian. After graduating with a Masters in the History and Philosophy of Science from Durham University, she studied Science Communication at Imperial College London. Mussolini’s Island is her first novel.  Follow Sarah on Goodreads


3 thoughts on “Review: Mussolini’s Island by Sarah Day

  1. A great review of an unusual book by the sounds of it…I’m intrigued and when you suggest the similar of one of my favourite books by VIctoria Hislop this is one I’ll be adding to my burgeoning wish list!

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