Islander"s book tells of World War II horrors

Mercer Island seems to have a fair number of writers. But Diane Kinman has added a twist. The subject of her first book is also an Islander.

The memoir, ``Franca's Story: Survival in World War II Italy,'' will be for sale in late July. The book chronicles Franca Mercati's determination to help her family survive World War II in Italy, from 1937 to 1945.

According to the book's dust jacket, the war ``shatters (her) privileged childhood in Florence, devastates her aristocratic family, and threatens the Italian way of life.''

To escape Allied bombs, Mercati's family had to flee its palatial home, said Kinman. During the war, one of Mercati's brothers is killed in action, Kinman said. Another brother is held as a prisoner of war, but is released after the conflict, she added.

Mercati also discovers her father is helping Jewish children escape from Italy, Kinman said, and she secretly uses his connections to rescue a wounded British pilot. And Mercati watches school friends die in a train station bombing in Pisa, Kinman said.

In the book, Kinman writes how Mercati's family eventually seeks refuge in an old Hapsburg palace on the Italian Riviera. There Mercati and her friend, Lilly, scavenge for food for the approximately 300 older people who have landed in the palace, too, Kinman said.

One day, while the children are foraging, a German soldier shoots three women where the pair usually look for food, said Kinman.

The author said she was struck by her subject's resilience.

``I was amazed she could be as happy and charming and energetic with all she went through,'' said Kinman, 57, who knew she wanted to write about Mercati's experiences after listening to her tell her stories of the war while the pair walked in Mercerdale Park.

The book is self-published. Kinman will sign it at an event at 7 p.m., July 22, at Island Books.

To write the memoir, Kinman had to unlearn some skills she used for 25 years as a technical writer and editor. Specifically, she had to teach herself how to stop writing concisely, and ``add some flourish and color to my writing.''

She did so by taking the Field's End writers workshop on Bainbridge Island, and by practicing describing characters and situations in minute detail.

``You just had to go over it and over it until people really got a feeling for it,'' she said.

Kinman went to Italy to research the book. During that trip she got to talk with Mercati's family and visit some of the places Mercati had talked of.

Now self-employed, Kinman, an Oregon State University graduate, does personal histories and is ``having so much more fun being creative with my writing.''

As for Mercati -- now Franca Martin and age 79 -- her family stayed in Italy after the war. There, she met a U.S. Army mapmaker and married him. They had two children, and she eventually moved to Mercer Island. Now retired, she volunteers with the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce and the Island's Visual Arts League, Kinman said.

Got any items for Around the Island? Then contact Lynn Porter at 232-1215 or e-mail

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