A Globe and Mail Fall 2019 Book to Watch
Whoever you are, you are sure to be a severe critic of Fascism, and you must feel the servile shame. But even you are responsible for your inaction. Do not seek to justify yourself with the illusion that there is nothing to be done. That is not true. Every person of courage and honour is quietly working for a free Italy. Even if you do not want to join us, there are still TEN THINGS which you can do. You can, and therefore you must.
These unsayable words, printed on leaflets that rained down on Mussolini’s headquarters in the heart of Rome at the height of the dictator’s power, drive the central drama of Possess the Air. This is the story of freedom fighters who defied Italy’s despot by opposing the rising tide of populism and xenophobia. Chief among them: poet and aviator Lauro de Bosis, firstborn of an Italian aristocrat and a New Englander, who transformed himself into a modern Icarus and amazed the world as he risked his life in the skies to bring Il Duce down. Taras Grescoe’s inspiring story of resistance, risk, and sacrifice paints a portrait of heroes in the fight against authoritarianism. This is an essential biography for our time.
Taras Grescoe is the author of seven non-fiction books, including Sacré Blues, The End of Elsewhere, The Devil's Picnic, Bottomfeeder, Straphanger, and Shanghai Grand. Bottomfeeder won the Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction, and was a finalist for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. He has contributed to the New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, Gourmet, and The Wall Street Journal. His books have been translated into half a dozen languages. He lives in Montreal.
Praise for Possess the Air
“Compelling...Set during Fascism’s glory years, Possess the Air is about resisting tyranny. It’s about the courage required to defy an autocrat even when the gains will be small.”
—Literary Review of Canada
“Possess the Air is a beautiful read, and the focus on Rome should open our eyes to how threats to civic liberty can often evolve into concrete form.”
—Quill & Quire
“Possess the Air is a massive project, combining research that’s deep yet deployed with a light touch, the smooth stag-managing of dozens of historical figures of varying fame and notoriety, a blend of the macro (sweeping social changes) and the micro (love stories, individual crises of conscience.) Yet Grescoe makes it look easy... Taras Grescoe has performed an act of resurrection, and done it with flair.” —Montreal Review of Books
“Superb—an object lesson is what befalls a country that embraces an autocratic strongman as its would-be saviour.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“Masterfully constructed, elegantly composed, this is a books to be savoured by anyone with an appetite for what Henry James called ‘the luxury of loving Italy.’ It’s an important books, offering a way through the present by way of connection with a complicate past.”
“In the age of Trump, Mussolini—half-clown, half-tyrant—returns to our minds more readily that does that fanatic of fanatics, Adolf Hitler. Readers of Taras Grescoe's racy study will learn much about what happened to those, both foreign and Italian, who rejected the Duce's fake truths even at the sacrifice of their own lives. Their story can help us today resist the populist nationalists who crowd our screens with their lies and superificialities.”
—R.J.B. Bosworth, author of Mussolini and The Oxford Handbook of Fascism
“Wow! This book is an absolute tour de force—a fact-driven work of historical imagination at once fresh, relevant, and irresistible. While tracking the rise of Italian fascism through the 1920s and ’30s, Taras Grescoe conducts a master class in applying novelistic techniques to a research-based narrative. By telling this story through individuals who lived it, Grescoe has created a literary experience that revives the idea of the nonfiction novel.”
—Ken McGoogan, author of Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada
“In Possess the Air, Grescoe merges impressive scholarship with deft storytelling to bring readers to a Rome we've never known—even though Mussolini's Make-Italy-Great-Again bombast will feel uncomfortably familiar. As much a biography of a city as the characters who dwell there, Grescoe's book hums and shines.”
—Marcello Di Cintio, author of Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Palestine in the Present Tense
Praise for Taras Grescoe
“Taras Grescoe has fallen hard for the 'the wicked old Paris of the Orient,' its barrooms thick with gangsters and newsmen, its alleys 'scented with sweet almond broth, opium smoke and the chemical bite of Flit insecticide' . . . Shanghai Grand is a headlong swoon for old Shanghai. The feeling is easy to catch.”
—New York Times Book Review
"Filled with excellent short character sketches and keeps the reader turning the pages to find out what will happen next . . . Brings to life a special time and a special place."
—Wall Street Journal
“A keenly observant, sometimes soulful portrait . . . of China’s political and social realities during that tumultuous period in its history. . . . A wonderful book.”
“Grescoe exuberantly captures the glamour and intrigue of a lost world."