The Other Side of Como is the debut novel by long-term Cambridge resident Mara G Fox
The story is based on a diary left by the author's estranged mother about her time in Lake Como, Italy, as an English woman behind enemy lines under Mussolini.
Married to a supporter of the Italian resistance, she finds herself torn between personal and political dynamics, which culminate in destroying her marriage, abandoning her three sons – the author’s half-brothers – and returing home.
Mara, who previously worked as a criminal barrister, carried out extensive research in the Cambridge University Library in order to make this historical novel – published in June by Eyewear Publishing – as accurate as possible, noting:
“It’s my mother’s story and I didn’t really know my mother very well, so it sort of links up with my life. I was born in London after the war, and my mother left Italy in 1946.”
She continued: “My mother had a friend who lived in Thurloe Square, South Kensington, and from about the age of two I was looked after by that friend. She brought me up as her daughter though I was never officially adopted.”
Mara moved to Brighton at the age of six and, although her mother moved there too, she gradually faded out of her life. Mara then relocated to Athens, on the Orient Express, with a friend.
She came to live in Cambridge in 1974 with her husband, who is now a professor of engineering at Cambridge University and a fellow of Pembroke College.
As part of her research, Mara, a graduate of Anglia Ruskin University, went to live in Como for three months. She said:
“I found writing this book very challenging – it took me a long time and several rewrites to arrive at the final version.”
On the diary her mother left behind, she said: “It’s quite a short account, only about 15 or 16 pages long, of what she expressed about her time in Italy. She wanted to explain to people how things went and how difficult it was.”
Mara added: “I had lots of stuff missing, so the book couldn’t be a direct account. In order to make it into a fictional account, it meant I had to create characters – though a lot of the characters are based on some of the people she mentioned in her story.
“I had to be creative about turning it into a book that somebody might like to read.”