The Children’s Train by Viola Ardone was a well written historical fiction novel based on true events. It was about a piece of Italy’s history post World War II that I knew nothing about. The aftermath of World War II had left the southern sections of Italy in extreme poverty. Naples, in particular, was riddled with rubble-strewn streets and a scarcity of good paying jobs. Most children living in Naples and other cities in southern Italy had bleak futures. Their schooling was limited and their aspirations were not usually attainable.
A seven year old boy named Amerigo lived in Naples with his mother, Antonietta in 1946 amidst all the destruction and poverty when a program was instituted to take a large number of these children from Naples and surrounding southern cities away from their lives of poverty. These children were transported by train to northern Italy where they would be placed with families who had volunteered to care for these children. They would be well fed and dressed. These volunteer families would welcome these children into their homes and families. Amerigo was one of the children chosen to take the train. He did not want to leave his mother and the only life he had ever known. After a long and lonely train ride that was full of uncertainty, Amerigo discovered that he had been placed in the type of home he had always dreamed of having. He was shown love and kindness. He was given nice clothes, plenty of food and opportunities to learn and the opportunities to be able to aspire to make something of himself. Amerigo found himself conflicted with feelings of guilt. He still loved his biological mother but his adopted family and his new life afforded him the chance for opportunities to make something good happen in his life. Which life would Amerigo ultimately choose?
The Children’s Train was a little slow in the beginning of the book but it got better as the story evolved. It was told from the point of view of a young and impressionable boy. It concluded, when Amerigo now a 50 year old accomplished and famous musician returned to Naples for one final time. I struggled with how parents could send their children away. As a parent, I know that there is nothing you wouldn’t do for your child to make their life better. The choice the parents of Naples had to make was extreme. I can’t imagine how hard a decision this must have been for Amerigo’s mother, Antonietta and how hard it must have been for little seven year old Amerigo to understand.
The Children’s Train by Viola Ardone was translated from Italian to English. It was a heartbreaking yet inspiring story. I received a complimentary copy of The Children’s Train in a Bookish book raffle from HaperVia through Bookish First in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.