Duality, that is the word that defines the new novel by Christian Gálvez. Two historical times, the Nazi Florence and the current one. Two story lines starring two very different characters, one real and one fictitious. The first was a German consul in the service of the fascists who risked his life during World War II to help many multitudes of Italian Jews flee. The second, a young woman named Hannah who will discover in the present how that diplomat saved her grandmother from Nazi terror. A work that is a complete tribute to the great and unknown history of Gerhard Wolf, better known as the “Guardian of the Ponte Vecchio”. Where were we going? Oh yeah. Dualities as common threads of a narrative that becomes a fascinating journey through the most unknown corners of Florence. Dualities like the ones he represents: presenter and writer.
-From the Renaissance to the Second World War, why?
-It arises with the human need to want to change perspective and editorial line regarding everything that had been done in the Renaissance. There was no weariness of the reader because when I announced Hannah people demanded Rafael, who will arrive, but there was a certain weariness of the author for trying to find something different at a very particular moment in my life. He spent a lot of time in Florence and had heard the urban legend, fake new, that Hitler fell in love with the Vecchio Bridge and decided not to blow it up in the face of the advance of the allies. I started to investigate and it was causality or coincidence that I observed and was not bottled up on my mobile during the brief crossing of the bridge. If you are not absorbed in hanging a selfie to show the rest of the world where you are, there is a wonderful plaque that no one stops to read. It tells you about the honorable milestone granted to Gerhard Wolf, the German consul who during the fascist occupation dedicated himself to saving the lives of the Jews and the Ponte Vecchio. The Second World War is a period that does not fascinate me, but the stories of the people do. I needed to prove to myself that I am able to find other stories and, above all, that I am able to tell them. I don’t know what the result will be, if it will sell a lot or a little, but I think I also had a need to do justice to the historical memory of this country. I do not intend to distance myself from Leonardo. He, Michelangelo, Botticelli, are present in Hannah. We are talking about Florence. The first scene of the novel, in media res, takes place under the statue of Leonardo which is in the external gallery of the Uffizi.
-The word that summarizes the work is duality. Like you, presenter and writer
-These dualities are sought from the first moment. I really liked the dual point that as a metaphor the bridge meant the passage between life and death. If you cross it you are saved and if you do not know that you will succumb to the Nazi barbarism. We call her Hannah because she is a palindrome, she reads from left to right as well as from right to left. With this, I am already indicating that Hannah has a presence in both Florences, that of 2019 and 1944, with the two generations: grandmother surviving in World War II and her granddaughter, who is the one who investigates all history. Gerhard Wolf’s duality is that of being a diplomat at the service of the citizen, but that he is forced to belong to the National Socialist Party. Live in ambiguity. What do I have to represent or personify and who am I really? I have that duality. In the book there are many quotes from Goethe, who as a German philosopher inspires the figure of Wolf a lot and my inspires me a lot. Goethe comes to say that he who renounces the man who has to be, almost, is dead in life. Why do I have to give up being who I want to be? It is not a matter of working around criticism or praise, it is about working around demand. In the end, what we do is generate content and, if there are people who consume it, I will continue to provide it. If there is a duality that resides between the beam or criticizes what others do, I will always be on the production side.
-Why Gerhard Wolf? What identifies you with him beyond your dualities?
-I think it’s a wonderful story precisely because Gerhard Wolf, compared to other great heroes, is a guy who had nothing to gain, rather much to lose. He tells how, despite this, his leitmotiv of life was solidarity and love of neighbor. Rescuing a story like this I think gives us a little hope and positivity. It is not well known because it belonged to the National Socialist Party. We know that Germany, from a sociological, political and intellectual point of view, tries to erase all this. Nazism is not praised, there is a silence. Even a duel. Praising the figure of an uncle who belonged to the Nazi Party is a bit complicated (laughs). Regarding what identifies me with him … It is a good question, it makes me reflect and I like it (he keeps thinking). There are many public speaking courses to know how to speak in public, but there are no courses to learn to listen. Something that unites Wolf and me is that we both know how to listen.
-How has the documentation process been?
-It cost me much less, since it is a very local investigation process. In my previous novels when I speak of the Renaissance, I speak of a historical period. I speak of the set of Italian states that formed what we know as Italy. It is a global movement of philosophical, political, economic, theological awareness, etc. In this case, we talk about how the Second World War affected Florence. I will not tell you the origin or the rise of National Socialism. Neither did Mussolini’s march on Rome. No, that has already happened. I narrate to you how those characters live that period in that city, which today we know as the Homeland of Art, from the Etruscans through the Medici. From there, the search becomes part of the novel. How do we get to an uncle about whom there is hardly any information? I tell you in the novel through Hannah. The time spent on research is directly proportional to the time spent on writing. That is, the failures, mistakes, frustrations, dead ends in which I have found are also reflected in the writing and is part of the emotion. It is a roller coaster of emotions.
– the most surprising thing of that investigation?
-I spent a lot of time in Florence, what most caught my attention, far from art, were two things. The first, knowing that Santa María Novella, a station that is very close to the apartment where I am staying to write, was one of the hot spots from where thousands of Jews were deported to Auschwitz. And the second, knowing that there were no concentration camps in Florence, but yes, floors where mutilations or savage interrogations were carried out and that this was allowed.