Monday, January 14, 2013

Road to Valor

Aili and Andres McConnon

In Road to Valor, siblings Aili and Andres McConnon offer the first in-depth, English-language telling of the life and career of Italian cycling legend Gino Bartali.  Bartali’s career spanned World War Two, as well as the immediate pre- and post-war years, and his long-term success in Europe’s most prestigious and grueling races, including the Tour de France, made him among the most famous athletes and public figures of mid-century Italy.

What emerges to make this story truly remarkable, though, is the sense of Bartali’s character and his tenacity, endurance, and commitment, both on and off the bicycle.  Though the Fascists tried to co-opt his success for propaganda purposes, Bartali not only resisted them but used his heroic public stature in Italy to actively aid the resistance and relief efforts for Italian Jews persecuted during the war years, becoming a hero in every sense of the word.

Though the book has a few pacing issues (a history of the bicycle early in the story feels out of place, for instance), this really is a remarkable tale which should have been told sooner.  It gives us an essential and heretofore largely missing picture not just of Gino Bartali but indeed a whole nation during a very difficult period, seen through his unique yet humble eyes.

- Bill Cameron

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