Book Reviews - Summer 2021

Companions Through Time

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A writer traces the footsteps of an Italian revolutionary icon

By N. S. Thompson | June 1, 2021
Photomechanical print, ca. 1900, of the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome, Italy (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)
Photomechanical print, ca. 1900, of the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome, Italy (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

The Hero’s Way: Walking with Garibaldi from Rome to Ravenna by Tim Parks; Norton, 352 pp., $27.95

In July 1849, the world was watching as the freedom fighter from Montevideo assembled his troops for a tactical retreat. Writing for the New-York Tribune, American journalist Margaret Fuller was among the crowds in Rome’s Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano to report on the event, which also featured in British and French newspapers, while American ships were sighted off the Tuscan coast, ready to take the freedom fighters to the United States.

Born in 1807 in Nice, then part of the Kingdom of Piedmont, Giuseppe Garibaldi was banished for his republicanism and ventured to South America, where he earned a reputation for his exploits on behalf of liberal causes, such as Uruguay’s resistance to incursions from neighboring Argentina. In 1848, as democratic revolutions challenged monarchical rule throughout Europe, Italy remained a checkerboard of states, kingdoms, and duchies. Garibaldi returned to join the Risorgimento movement for unification and was placed in command of troops defending the newly declared Republic of Rome. Having decamped south to Naples, the pope called on the Catholic-sympathizing states of France, Spain, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which governed large swaths of northern Italy, to help restore his territorial claim to the Papal States. After a two-month siege, Rome fell to the invading French on July 2, 1849, but a truce allowed Garibaldi to leave the city with a force of 4,000 volunteers. He had two days to prepare for the epic trek of his Garibaldini irregulars, a ragbag army of infantry, cavalry, baggage trains, munitions, and one cannon. His aim was to reinforce Venice, a newly independent republic holding out against the Austrians.

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