A HISTORICALLY BOLD AND DRAMATICALLY LIVELY WAR TALE.
In this historical novel, Jewish musicians running from the Nazis are helped by Roman Catholic priests in a Sicilian village during World War II.
In 1942, Pope Pius XII finds himself in a precarious position, torn between a desire to denounce the atrocities committed by the Nazi and Soviet militaries and the importance of maintaining the Vatican’s neutrality, which allows it to become a sanctuary for Jewish refugees. While rhetorically cautious, the pope acts with great boldness, encouraging Catholic priests to help disenfranchised Jews. LoCoco astutely creates a story about a plan devised with the Vatican’s imprimatur, a scheme to hide Jewish musicians in the fictional Bellafortuna, a Sicilian village with a reputation for its “immense passion for music.” But this is a perilous undertaking—the Jews will hide in plain sight, posing as Italians, assuming new identities, and learning rudimentary Italian. The tale focuses on three Jewish musicians—Alfred Keller, Heinrich Bergman, and Kurt Hofmann—who narrowly escaped death at the hands of Hitler’s henchmen. The plot can devolve into an excess of sentimentality—Heinrich, a talented violinist, rediscovers the joy of music in Bellafortuna, a scene wrought with melodrama. He thanks Annika Adler, the wife of a composer, for helping him overcome his sadness about his mother’s death and reigniting his enthusiasm for music: “You have opened my heart to music again and to life, and you have brought to my mind the memory of my dear mother. For all of that, I am forever grateful.” But the book as a whole is impressively nuanced and articulates an account of the Catholic Church’s opposition to Hitler’s despotism not always accurately reflected in the historical literature. Instead of being cowardly or indifferent, the controversial Pope Pius is portrayed in this novel as diplomatically prudent as well as deeply constrained by the Vatican’s tenuous political power. The author’s fictional story about the musicians and his interpretation of the Vatican’s wartime actions are based on his research, including the “historical fact that Italians hid the Jews.” Whether or not this portrait of the pope is ultimately proved to be correct by historians, it is an impressively balanced one. The tale takes admirable pains to furnish readers with what LoCoco considers a fuller picture of the Vatican’s position during the war.
I am thrilled to announce on October 31st at 2:40 EST, I will appear on Sirius Radio on the Katie McGrady Show on The Catholic Channel, Ch129.
Mark your calendar and listen in.
Over the next few weeks, I will be using my blog to discuss some opera recordings, which I will call “Definitive.” By that, I mean, although there are many recordings of the same piece to choose from to relish and enjoy, this one recording is the best, the shining star, that makes it stand out from all the rest. Not that the others are bad, but this is the one that has that essential component that sets it apart and makes it sui generis.
Over this period, I will call upon people who not only love opera but who have a musical background and have them provide to us a recording that they consider to be a definitive recording. We will not judge one recording against another but instead use this as an opportunity to listen to some of the greatest pieces of music sung by artists who were (as the saying goes) on fire. And by using a few different people, we should be able to achieve an incredible selection for us to enjoy.
So, in the words of Tonio from “Pagliacci”, Incominciate! (Let’s begin!) Head on over to the Blog page and check out the submissions.
This Saturday, December 11, I will be having a book signing of Saving the Music at the Catholic Book Store in New Orleans. Hope to see you there.
Lawyer pens third in series of fictional ‘Bellafortuna’
By Christine Bordelon
His Catholic faith, love of music and history run through the three historical fiction novels that attorney Vincent “Chip” LoCoco has written.
His most recent, “Saving the Music,” furthers the story of Bellafortuna (beautiful fortune), a Sicilian town he created in his Bellafortuna series. In it, LoCoco delves into how townspeople united to hide Jewish musicians and their families during World War II, at the request of Father Biaggio Sanguinetti, an ally of Pope Pius XII at the Vatican, who is from Bellafortuna.
“When (Father Sanguinetti) hears that the pope is looking for a place to hide Jews, he thinks of his father” (who heads the town’s annual opera festival),” LoCoco said.
Father Sanguinetti was raised believing “God reveals himself through music, and the musician is his instrument,” so Bellafortuna was perfect for a hiding place, and Jews were incorporated in the town’s orchestra.
LoCoco based his novel on the true story of how citizens of Assisi rescued Jews during the war. He discovered, during months of research, many examples of Italians hiding Jews. “In Rome itself, 8,000 Jews were living in the Jewish Quarter in Rome,” he said. “1,000 were deported (to Auschwitz), but 7,000 were saved by the actions of priests, the Vatican and people throughout Italy. 80% of Italian Jews survived the war because Italians refused to turn the Jews over.”
His research also led LoCoco to the controversy about Pope Pius XII’s alleged silence regarding persecutions against the Jews. LoCoco leaned on the pope’s personal correspondence to tell his story.
“What I was trying to get across in the book is that he was in a tough spot,” LoCoco said, adding how there were millions of Catholics worldwide, not just in Vatican City (which was a neutral state) in the middle of Rome surrounded by Fascism. “He took a very measured approach in being careful in what he said because the advice he was getting was, if you speak out too loudly, the persecutions would only increase (as happened in Holland). At some point, I think, he decided that his assistance to Jewish people would remain in the shadows.”
Many were advising the pope to be more vocal against Hitler. In many cases, he was, LoCoco said, through Vatican Radio and letting local priests and bishops in Italy decide how to help Jews. He hid Jews at Castel Gandolfo, in churches and monasteries, and some worked at the Vatican.
“What surprised me the most in my research was the testimony of individual Catholic priests and Italians who were being lauded for what they did to save Jews during the war,” LoCoco said.
Over and over, LoCoco read that they said Pope Pius XII deserved the praise for supporting Italians who tried to save Jews. It is something overlooked by the pope’s critics, he said.
“Even with regard to the story of Assisi, when Archbishop Giovanni Montini (the future Pope Paul VI) was offered a reward for his work in saving Jews, his response was that he was only acting upon the orders of Pope Pius XII,” LoCoco
Inspirations from interests
A fourth-generation Sicilian American living in New Orleans – his great grandfather Castranzio Lococo brought the family here from Cefalu, Sicily – LoCoco graduated from Our Lady of the Rosary School, Jesuit High School, Loyola University New Orleans and Loyola Law School. He and his wife Wendy have two children and were honored with the Order of St. Louis Medallion at St. Pius X, where they are parishioners.
His Catholic background inspires him to infuse the concept of being a “man for others” in his books.
LoCoco’s love for history led to his pursuing that major at Loyola and his fascination with J.R.R. Tolkien, writer of “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings,” for the world he created in writing. LoCoco said his Bellafortunabooks, in a small way, are a tribute to him.
Creating a fictional town and people gave LoCoco license to write characters the way he desired in factually true places and time periods. Almanacs and other sources aided in the accurate historical rendering.
“You have to be cognizant when writing historical fiction that someone makes sure your facts are spot on,” or a reader will tell you otherwise, he learned early in his career.
His love for Italy, his penchant for opera and his interest in Pope Pius XII has to do not only with his heritage but also with the stories his late father, Vincent Theodore LoCoco, told him. The book is dedicated to his father,whowasaseminarianwho studied in Rome at the Gregorian University and North American College. He would mention how Jews were hidden during WWII at the Gregorian University.
“My father was handpicked to sit with Pope Pius XII’s body at Castel Gandolfo the night before the funeral,” LoCoco said. “That was quite an accomplishment for a New Orleans boy from Mid City.”
Great reviews for novel
Since LoCoco began writing as a hobby in 2003, his books have been well recognized.
His first novel, “Tempesta’s Dream: A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera,” is a love story about an opera singer in Milan. It earnedthePinnacleAchievement in Historical Fiction award, was named by Amazon as a top-rated historical fiction novel and listed as a bestselling novel in Italian historical fiction.
“Never thinking I could write a novel,thestorycametomewhen my son was very little,” he said. “I had nighttime duty, so I was up with him and went to bed thinking I was going to sleep, and this story bounced in my head. That first night, I had an entire outline before I went to bed.”
After his daughter’s birth, he penned a book for her – “A Song for Bellafortuna” – where the fictional town in Sicily is first introduced. LoCoco based it on the picturesque Sicilian city of Noto that relocated from a valley to the hills after earthquakes.
In this tome, Naples-born opera singer Enrico Caruso – one of his favorite opera singers – has a role. Bellafortuna’s love for music is established here. It earned the B.R.A.G. Medallion Award in Historical Fiction, was named a short-list finalist in the William Faulkner Writing Competition and a bestselling novel in Italian historical fiction.
The idea for “Saving the Music” was hatched on a Saints-game trip to Washington, D.C. There, LoCoco visited the Holocaust Museum and was moved by the exhibits, especially a placard mentioning how 80% of Italian Jews were saved from theHolocaust by Italian people. This piqued a dive into history to discover that Italians were anti-Fascist and open to helping their fellow countrymen, even at their own peril.
“I thought it was a perfect way to incorporate that history into my village,” he said about the third book.
The book’s debut coincided with the March 2020 opening of the Vatican Apostolic (Secret) Archives of Pope Pius XII’s writings. Both were hampered by the pandemic.
“Saving the Music” is getting recognition by Amazon as a toprated historical fiction novel, is a bestseller in Italian historical fiction andtop-rated onGoodreads.
LoCoco wasn’t planning to write a third novel in the Bellafortuna series until a reader emailed him, spouting her love for Bellafortuna and wanting to learn what happened to the villagers after the war.
“It made me think there was another story for Bellafortuna,” he said.
LoCoco is halfway through this still untitled Bellafortuna book – set shortly after the war from 1947-48. He hinted that it features Mussolini’s hatred of the Mafia that causes them to flee – even before the war – to the Sicilian hills or the United States, but returning after the war, and how Bellafortuna is trying to protect itself from the Mafia.
LoCoco’s books are published by Cefalutana Press, available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble and the local Catholic Bookstore and as audio books. Learn more about LoCoco at www.vincentlococo.com.
Copyright (c) 2021 Clarion Herald, Edition 12/11/2021
Author Italian Historical Fiction, News and Review
I received this letter from the President of the Casa Verdi - the retirement home in Milan established by the great opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi. The home plays a huge role in my novel, Tempesta's Dream. As a writer, I wanted to include this letter in my news and updates by author section of my website.
Caro signor Lococo, Solo ora, a distanza di mesi, la ringrazio per avermi inviato il suo libro.Il ritardo è dovuto al fatto che preferisco ringraziare consapevolmente, dunque dopo aver letto il libro inviatomi.E così posso farle i miei più vivi complimenti per il suo bel lavoro, che valorizza Casa Verdi ed i suoi Ospiti.Cordiali saluti. Antonio Magnocavallo
Dear Mr. LoCoco, Only now, months later, I thank you for sending me your book. The delay is due to the fact that I prefer to thank you after reading the book that you sent to me. And so I grant to you my warmest congratulations for your great work, which not only enhances the Casa Verdi, but it's guests. Best regards. Antonio Magnocavallo
Vincent LoCoco’s, a writer of Italian Historical Fiction Novels, shares his interview for his novel, Saving the Music on his news and updates by author page of his website.
This was an interview I gave with Ana Grigoriu-Voicu, the designer for my book covers. Her author interviews provide great opportunities to learn more about the writer's craft.
Ana: I met Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco in the spring of 2015, just as he was preparing to launch his novel “A Song for Bellafortuna“. “A Song for Bellafortuna” became the winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion award in historical fiction and was a best-selling title on Amazon. Five years later, after he became a Best Selling and Award Winning Italian Historical Fiction Author, he published the second novel in the series, titled “Saving the Music“.
The very first novel I wrote, Tempesta’s Dream – A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera, was dedicated to my son, Matthew, who had just recently been born. By the time the book was released, my wife and I had welcomed our daughter, Gabrielle, into the world. I knew right then that I needed to write another novel so I could dedicate a book to her. The inspiration for A Song for Bellafortuna was Enrico Caruso, the greatest Italian Tenor who ever graced the world’s opera stages. As I reflect back to the genesis of the entire writing process for that novel, I distinctly remember that the way the story came to me was Caruso would come to a small village and save the villagers from something. From that simple premise, the story began and the fictional history of Bellafortuna started to take hold.
As discussed earlier, A Song for Bellafortuna, was my second novel. One day, I received a review from a reader who loved the novel and the characters. The reader mentioned that she wished the story would continue, as she so much desired to know what happened to the characters as they got older. A week later, I found myself in Washington D.C., with my wife and our friends, on our annual trip to an away New Orleans Saints football game. While there, we visited the Holocaust Museum. I remember seeing the room filled with shoes, shoes from the victims of the Holocaust. Not far from this display was a plaque thanking the Italian people for what they had done in saving the Jews during the Holocaust. Upon my return to New Orleans, and since I am a proud third-generation Sicilian-American, I began researching the Italian response to the Holocaust. My research blossomed into Saving the Music. As I researched more and more, I began to contemplate even more the reader’s comment wanting to know what happened to the characters that she loved from A Song for Bellafortuna. Those characters would only be in their 60s during World War II. I wondered what would have happened to them, and the idea of this novel came blasting into my head. It is a historical fact that Italians hid the Jews, and Bellafortuna would be such a location where they would be hidden. As for the research, it probably took longer than the writing itself. Pope Pius XII plays a role in the novel, and his response to the Holocaust is quite controversial.
So, I knew I needed to be particularly diligent in all of my research. I spoke with major historians on the subject, as well as people who lived in Rome and at the Vatican during WWII to make sure I got the atmosphere right. There was even a 95-year-old priest who himself was involved with saving Jews during WWII, who read the manuscript and hand wrote to me from Rome, on six pages, his thoughts and ideas for the novel. All in all, the research took about a year, off and on.
In college, I was a history major. Following college, I went on to Law School, and now I am an attorney, specializing in Estate Planning. I list all of that for the sole purpose of explaining that my background was not steeped in creative writing or fiction. However, I did read a lot of fiction, and I always loved movies, Broadway and opera. All three genres tell stories. And I would say that telling stories was what sparked my interest in writing. The story for my first novel came to me one night, and I began to write. Never thinking I could write fiction, I was surprised at how the story flowed, and the writing came easy. Of course, once you write one book, you are bitten by the bug, and you can’t wait till you can get lost in telling stories again.
I definitely let the character’s traits develop from where the story takes me. Often, my original thoughts on a character may completely change as the story takes place and when I view that character in a certain scene that I am writing. Your question does make me think of a letter that I stumbled upon by JRR Tolkien, written to his publisher. He was giving the publisher an update on The Lord of The Rings, which he had just begun. Near the end of that letter, Tolkien wrote that “Dark Riders” had just entered the story, and that he could not wait to get back to his work to discover more about them. It was as if the story was still developing while he was writing.
For me, the hardest part is the beginning. When I write, I have already outlined in my head the storyline and how it’s going to end. It seems for my writing process, I need to have the ending clearly delineated so that all of my writing, chapter by chapter, drives toward that ending. With that outline in my head, I start to write. Inevitably, the beginning is the hardest for me, as it’s quite a balancing act to introduce the readers to the story, the characters, and their history, yet at the same time, holding enough information back so that it does not read like an information dump. I probably work on the beginning the most, as I often go back to it, to tweak an idea or thought, over and over again.
I’m laughing at your question, because, as I write out my answer, I am looking at bottle of wine called ‘Writer’s Block’ that a friend gave me at a book signing. On top is a card with a photo of Shakespeare and words that state ‘In case of an emergency, break the glass.’ I’ve never really been confronted with writer’s block myself during the writing of a story. My most intense part of writing is actually finding the story I want to tell, and how I want to tell it. I often have many thoughts and ideas of possible stories, but I lose interest quickly. Finding that next story is what gives me the most pain in being a writer.Saving the Music is available for purchase at Amazon in e-book, paperback, hardcover and audiobook formats.
I have two writing spots. One is at my house, out in our pool house. Next to a window, overlooking a colorful garden, I have a small camp style desk. On top that desk, are some figures from some of my favorite fiction books, such as Frodo, Sherlock Holmes and Bob Cratchit carrying Tiny Tim on his shoulders. When not writing at home, you can usually find me at a coffee shop early in the morning before work, with Ipods in my ears, listening to music to inspire me for the day. And before you ask, its usually music from films, or Opera, or classical. Rock music and writing for me do not work.
The key for writing to me is to love the story you are going to tell. And when I say love it, I mean you can’t wait to get the story down on paper. So much so, you wake up every day, hoping to find time that day to work on the story. And here is the key. If you love it that much, then the story will always be there, even if life or work takes you away from it for a week or two. The moment you get back to it, you are immediately back in the groove and picking up writing the story right where you left off. It is a great feeling and one that I have to give credit to the fact that I am in love with the story.
Every summer, I go back and read a certain book. I’ve been doing that since I was in my twenties. However, now stuck at home during this current pandemic, I decided to get an early start and I started reading it again. The book is The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. It’s my inspiration for writing. The way Tolkien can show you a world through his writing is magical. How he could write such a masterpiece is a mystery. It’s a great escape from this weird, strange life we are currently living.
During the course of my writing career, I became an Italian Historical Fiction Writer. However, with Saving the Music, I tapped into a whole new genre of European Fiction, German Fiction and Holocaust Fiction. As for now, I’m in the slow development stage of ideas for novels. The one I keep coming back to is the story of the village of Bellafortuna and the rise of the Mafia after WWII. It’s in the early stages. This would be book three of the Bellafortuna Series, and probably would round out the entire series.
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