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Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation (Anglais) Broché – 11 juin 2013

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Across the Arno

When we race together, let's each win a little! This time you, and the next time me," Gino shouted ahead to his younger brother, Giulio, as they pedaled up the steep, sun-drenched hills surrounding Ponte a Ema. Their tires kicked up clouds of grit, and it was all Gino could do to avoid swallowing a mouthful. He rubbed a sweaty palm against his shorts, trying to brush off the stubborn rust flakes from his bike frame, and tucked his elbows in alongside his body, the way his idols did as they sprinted to victory, clutching their sleek curved handlebars. Gino leaned into the pedals and sped past Giulio. He turned and grinned at his younger brother as they started their descent toward home. They would race again tomorrow, and on that forgotten stretch of Tuscan road their tomorrows seemed endless.

Cycling had become the Bartali boys' passion, a flash of excitement and adventure in their tiny, workaday hometown. For Ponte a Ema in the 1920s was a sleepy place, just beyond the sophisticated world of Florence. Resting on the banks of the Ema, a tributary of the Arno River, Ponte a Ema brimmed with the vineyards, rolling hills, and waves of sweet lavender undulating out to the horizon, which have since made Tuscany world-renowned. Still, the village itself, located across a small bridge on the road from Florence to Bagno a Ripoli, looked like little more than an afterthought. One would be hard-pressed to find it on a map, hidden as it was some four miles southeast of Florence's central square. And though it included a short litany of establishments common to any small Italian town of the time--a church; a bank; a bike mechanic's shop; a simple barbershop; a grain mill; a small wine store; a five-room school set up in a farmer's house--it lacked a town hall and a proper piazza, the pulsing heart of Italian life where nonni, or grandparents, gather to play cards and stray cats dart out of the way of running children and bouncing soccer balls. Without a nucleus, Ponte a Ema conveyed the impression of an accidentally inhabited byway between more important places. That more important places existed would not occur to Gino until much later. Back then, Ponte a Ema was all the world a boy could want.

Born July 18, 1914, Gino Giovanni Bartali was a wispy, blue-eyed boy with a moppish head of curly dark hair. He lived with his parents, Torello and Giulia, his older sisters, Anita and Natalina, and his brother, Giulio, in one of the cream-colored, three-story tenement buildings that lined Via Chiantigiana, Ponte a Ema's main street, where all the hubbub of daily life played out. Like most of the apartments along Chiantigiana, the Bartalis' consisted of one room and a small kitchen. Home reminded Gino of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio and the humble abode of Geppetto, the hot-headed Tuscan carpenter who was known for getting into scuffles with anyone who insulted him. "The furniture could not have been much simpler: a very old chair, a rickety old bed, and a tumble-down table," wrote Collodi. "Little as Geppetto's house was, it was neat and comfortable."

The Bartalis' home possessed a similar modest charm. The children helped Giulia cart jugs of water from nearby springs. Together with several families, the Bartalis shared a privy at the end of the hall on their floor, which consisted of a hole in a bench through which refuse dropped into a small container on the ground floor. Running water, like electricity, would only come several decades later, after the end of the Second World War.

These were cramped quarters to be sure, but Gino didn't know any different. Besides, outdoors was where the action was. Along the road, the boys from town would huddle for hours around a game of marbles, keeping a stern eye on the rainbow array of tiny glass globes that already belonged to them, and hawkishly watching the ones that would soon join their collection if luck and skill were on their side that day. The game was serious business for Gino and his friends, and almost always ended in a violent brawl, broken up only by the clatter of a pair of dark green window shutters being flung open above to make way for somebody's mother leaning out to deliver a strident scolding. Gino always got a particularly severe tongue-lashing when he came home for dinner covered in bruises. Thin and undersized, a cuff from another child was enough to topple him to the ground, but that did little to deter him from bounding up and swinging right back. Gino knew he was the weakest, but he hated being teased. "I would have liked to have friends who didn't take advantage of being stronger than me so that they could beat me up after every game of marbles," he said later. Already headstrong as a youngster, however, he was willing to stand up for himself, even if the outcome was rarely favorable. "I was an unlucky marbles player, and an even unluckier boxer."

When he and his friends would scatter into the surrounding fields for games of tag or cops and robbers, winning and losing was a more straightforward affair and fisticuffs could be kept to a minimum. The orchards outside town were ideal for any pastime that involved hiding and chasing, draped as they were with row upon row of rippling white washing hung out to dry. For Ponte a Ema was a laundry town; many of its villagers labored for small businesses charged with cleaning the linens and finery of Florence's gentlemanly class. Men organized the transportation for this industry, picking up and delivering laundry with a mule pulling a dray. Women, predictably, bore the brunt of the dirty work. With brushes and lye ash soap, they scrubbed soft mountains until they were spotless. They cleaned shirts in large cement basins called viaios; they rinsed large bedsheets on the banks of the Ema River, by the ponte or bridge for which the town was named. Once each stain had been painstakingly removed, everything was carried out to the orchards and hung to dry in endless bay-scented fabric corridors, perfect for dodging potential jailers or for lying in wait to snatch a slippery thief and triumphantly march him back to town, where his punishment would be determined and duly meted out.

"As children we had fun with little, in fact nothing," Gino said. They played murielle, a game that involved tiles and smoothed stones, in the small rectangular schoolyard, and diecone in the Ponte a Ema cemetery; whoever knocked down the most graveside candles by rolling coins at them won the ten-cent piece. They would sneak off to the Arno for a forbidden swim--the river was known for claiming lives with its currents and sudden whirlpools, and Gino's mother once had to resort to stealing her son's clothes from its banks, forcing him to scurry home naked, to teach him a lesson. Most days, though, Gino and his friends would scamper out of the water, get dressed, and, when somebody had a spare coin or two, run over to a riverside cookie factory that sold broken pieces of biscotti, with flavors like fig and sambuca, at an end-of-day discount.

Gino's favorite pastime was one he had to keep completely secret or risk an encounter with his father's leather belt. Torello's bicycle had always fascinated Gino and one day he hatched a plan to learn to ride atop it. It was far too big for a boy his size, but he was determined to master it. Like a bullfighter closing in on a bull in an arena, he approached it. Standing one foot on the left pedal, he slid his right leg under the crossbar to reach the right pedal. Balancing precariously, and much too short to sit on the bike seat, he stretched up to grip the handlebars from below. Crooked and wobbling, he learned painstakingly to maneuver the unwieldy contraption and barely noticed the smirks and giggles his clumsy expeditions elicited. He was too busy keeping his balance as he pedaled along Ponte a Ema's side streets.

Gino would have spent all of his waking hours outdoors at play if he could. Unfortunately, school was a constant interference. "I had little will to study," he said.

Gino's lack of discipline aggravated his father; his mother was irritated that her son had worn out more pairs of pants on the playground pavement than on the school benches where he was meant to be learning. Yet their lectures fell on deaf ears, and so a familiar scene began to play out regularly in the Bartali household.

"I don't like school, period," Gino would say.

"You are going and that's that," Torello would respond.

But Torello's persistence did not produce a scholar. Gino failed the first grade, and in the years that followed, the only charitable remark his teachers could muster about him as a student was that he had good personal hygiene. Still his father insisted he complete la sesta, the equivalent of sixth grade. Ponte a Ema's schoolhouse, however, only taught up to fifth grade--so Gino would have to travel to Florence to attend his final year. "To go to Florence you need a bicycle, and a bicycle costs money," Torello told his son. "You will have to earn it."

Like so many men of his era, Torello Bartali was the primary bread-winner of his family. Although his name meant "young bull" in Italian, Torello moved with the quiet ease of an old workhorse. The features of his face betrayed little about him. He always wore a beret, and a thick mustache covered the edges of his mouth, from which normally dangled a cigar. His physique was more revealing. Short and sinewy, he had a body of considerable strength.

Torello was used to hard work, but his job stability as a day laborer did little to inspire confidence. He worked principally in the fields, and when that type of job wasn't available, he worked in a local quarry, which mined the bluish shale used to pave the neighboring streets of Florence. When quarry work couldn't be found, Torello worked as a bricklayer, laying the foundation for countless Florentine homes. When both of those jobs were in short supply, he went down to the Arno River to collect sand that in turn was used for making cement. And as a last resort, he picked up work extinguishing the oil-fueled street lamps at dawn. For all his efforts, a laborer like Torello earned little more than the modern equivalent of about a dollar an hour.

Necessity forced Giulia to work as well, even if a woman's hourly wage in that era was often less than half a man's. In fact, money was so scarce in the Bartali household that Giulia barely made it home in time to give birth to Gino because she had hiked to a hillside convent that same morning to inquire about a maid's position. Like Torello, she toiled for long days in the fields, tending to the crops and the vines. Though she was small and sturdy, this heavy manual labor took its toll, and she was often plagued with severe leg pains. But Giulia was as ingenious as she was resilient. After particularly punishing days, she would soak a cloth in vinegar and salt, wring it out, and hold it against her legs for five minutes. For more severe pain, she rubbed a compress of wet cigar stubs over the sore areas until the pain subsided.

Primitive as they were, such remedies allowed Giulia to endure a workday that continued well after the sun set. After the long hours in the fields, Giulia spent her evenings earning extra money by embroidering, creating the kind of fine lacework found in the bridal trousseau of any Florentine woman of means. The work of running her household and feeding her husband and four children was balanced precariously atop her other labors. All of this added up to a hardscrabble life that paused only on Sundays, but it was hardly a unique one in Ponte a Ema or even the rest of Tuscany. In the early part of the twentieth century, Tuscan peasants worked an average of fourteen hours per day and a third more of the calendar year than Italians today.

Torello had already given Gino more than one dressing-down about the value of a lira. When Gino would meekly take his seat at the dinner table, hair tousled from his schoolyard scuffles, he knew he could expect the usual admonishment: "Money is necessary for food and certainly not for buying books for a boy who uses them to hit his friends over the head with." La sesta was fast approaching, and with it the need for transportation. Twelve-year-old Gino had to find a job. Though he and Giulio had helped their mother and sisters make embroidery for as long as they could remember (Gino was particularly skilled at making lace), his father believed it was time his elder boy found work of his own. Gino was too weak to begin apprenticing as a day laborer or bricklayer with his father, so Giulia decided to ask around for a simple and minimally strenuous position for her son. After some time, she found some farmers in a nearby town looking for a boy to help unravel piles of raffia, the long fibers from the leaves of certain palm trees, whose threads could be used to make ties for grapevines and delicate nursery plants. The work was easy enough, but for an energetic boy who longed to be outside with his friends, it was also an exercise in excruciating boredom. Only the promise of his very own bicycle kept Gino focused on the task at hand.

Consumed by his new goal, Gino was mesmerized by bikes wherever he saw them. But Ponte a Ema was not a worldly place. No races ever passed through town. The only groups of men cycling together that Gino saw were bricklayers on their way to work in Florence. They would ride by on their bicycles, many of them without pedals, which were too expensive to replace once broken. "A lot of time was still to pass before I set eyes on a sports paper and before I knew about the existence of a world in which you could go racing in a pair of black shorts and a colored jersey." Still, he kept working to earn money for his own bicycle, and in the meantime he snuck in rides on his father's, slowly acquainting himself with the vehicle that would change his life.

The bicycle had been born more than a century before Gino, but the earliest versions were little more than wooden horses mounted on wheels. In 1790 in Paris, a Frenchman rode one of these devices in a rudimentary race around the Champs-Elysees. In the late 1830s, a Scottish blacksmith named Kirkpatrick Macmillan experimented with building a hobby-horse with pedals so that a rider did not need to push off the ground to propel the machine forward. This pricey new amusement quickly became popular in North America. Oliver Wendell Holmes describes the years before the Civil War in the United States when "some of the Harvard College students who boarded in my neighborhood had these machines they called velocipedes, on which they used to waddle along like so many ducks."

Revue de presse

Winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award – Biography
Winner of the Christopher Award
Winner of the Mazzei Award

"You do not have to follow cycling to relish Bartali’s story....Like Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit before it, Road to Valor is about an unlikely, headstrong champion who transcended his sport to make a deep impact on the broader world.” – Sports Illustrated

“The McConnons have told the story of his [Bartali’s] great and greater victories powerfully and well.” – Boston Globe

“Gino Bartali was a hero....He was a cyclist who saved lives by riding throughout Italy during the second world war for a purpose higher than money or glory” – Bill Littlefield, NPR

“This thoroughly documented biography is both inspiring and immensely enjoyable.” – Publishers Weekly

“[Road to Valor] tells a dramatic and moving story that is virtually unknown to most readers....An important addition to World War II biography and also to the history of twentieth-century cycling.” – Booklist

“Impeccably researched and thrillingly told....This is truly an amazing tale of a poor Tuscan boy who pedaled his way not only to sports immortality, but into true heroism.” –The Globe and Mail

“‘Thou shall not stand idly by’ is a powerful Biblical command. In Aili and Andres McConnon’s book it offers a moving example of moral courage. A simple citizen and great athlete chose to oppose a cruel and racist political dictatorship by saving Jewish victims in Italy. Was it so hard to become a hero then? It was enough--enough to remain human. And yet.” – Elie Wiesel
“The two Tours de France won by Bartali are more than mere entries in the record book of winners. The fact that they were won many years apart proves what an exceptional champion he really was. Above all, the war years separating these victories now reveal Gino to have been a true hero.” – Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France
"Whether you are a Tour de France fan, a history buff, or looking for an entertaining way to learn about both, Road to Valor will have you turning the pages with more conviction and speed than Bartali could turn the pedals!  An engaging and mesmerizing read." – Craig Hummer, Tour de France broadcaster for NBC Sports
“A gritty, scary story of endurance, Road to Valor traces one man’s harrowing journey from the resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Italy to a comeback triumph in the Tour de France—told with verve and an affecting appreciation of the human spirit.” – Bruce Porter, New York Times bestselling author of Blow
"This book is a magnificent ride through the uphill-downhill-uphill story of Gino Bartali. It inspires anyone who tenaciously holds to doing what is just, no matter how difficult, in the face of ignorance and terror. Bartali is a hero for all times."
Fred Plotkin, author of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler
“Many cycling fans recognize the name Gino Bartali, and up until now most people only knew him for the races he won. But during some of the most tumultuous years of the twentieth century he leveraged his fame and risked his life for those being persecuted. With this complete look at Bartali’s life, his legacy as one of cycling’s greatest heroes grows even stronger.” – Chris Carmichael, legendary coach and former Giro d’Italia and Tour de France racer
“Bartali is one of cycling's great icons, and this book adds another important dimension to this man's world.” – Sir Paul Smith
“It is with genuine pleasure that I recommend to men and women of all ages and all religious and ethnic backgrounds Road to Valor by Aili and Andres McConnon.  It recounts a true story that is marvelously exciting and inspiring as well.  The heroism of so many Italians during World War II and afterwards is a tale that needs to be told, and the authors tell it masterfully.  Their readers will be deeply touched by the courage of the hero of the book, Gino Bartali, and others who put their lives at risk to protect the innocent and defend both their faith and their commitment to democracy.” – Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop Emeritus of New York
“At a time when so many sports figures have come to personify scandal and bad behavior, how refreshing it is to read the inspiring tale of Gino Bartali's life.  The McConnons have drawn a portrait of the Italian cycling legend that uplifts the spirit, and reminds us of the many ways tenacity and faith can reshape the world.  This lively book will ride off with your heart and cycle through your memory for years to come.” – Raymond Arroyo, New York Times bestselling author and host of EWTN's The World Over Live

From the Hardcover edition.

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Amazon.com: 143 commentaires
24 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Well written - captivating! 9 mai 2012
Par pebbles - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
Road To Valor by Aili and Andres McConnon
This sister and brother writing team have a "breakaway" book that is well written and amazingly documented. The story reminded me of what it must have been like to live in any of the European counties during World War II. The strength of the Italian people to recover from the war is so tied to the life of their famous cyclist, Gino Bartali. His efforts to win the Tour de France for the second time after the war is a remarkable ten year span. His strong Catholic faith and heroic help of Jewish families during such a terrible time in history was nothing short of courageous. I was also captivated by the details of the Tour de France and the physical and cycling skill involved in this fiercely competitive race. A good read for sport fans as well as historians.
22 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Fascinating 30 avril 2012
Par DragonWing - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
I've long been interested in the history of WWII, but I've always focused on the battles portion of it - the dog fights in the air, the soldiers, the maneuvering...and paid little attention to the role of civilians in war. But I decided it was time to do some reading that area, and started with Road to Valor.

I enjoyed it a great deal - since I'm also a road-racing fan.

The authors have done an excellent job putting Gino Bartali's story tigether, from his two Tour de France races - one before and one after WWII, plus his heroics as a civilian during the war when he joined a like-minded group of civilians who created fake identity cards for Jewish refugees. The horror and misery of war for soldiers is bad enough, but one must not forget the sufferings of the civilians who live near or in-between advancing armies, and who suffer either the excesses of victorious soldiers, or beaten soldiers looking to take their rage out on those who can't fight back.

The tales of Bartali's racing career, and of his two Tour de France victories - the one in 1948 of immense importance to the Italian people - are also redered vividly.

Recomended for students of WWII and/or those interested in the history of road racing and what it takes to be a champion....(if a flawed human...and Bartali's flaws are not glossed over in this excellent and fair-minded biography.)
18 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Best Book of 2012. Fascinating true story. Diligently Researched and Eloquently Written. 12 juin 2012
Par Fedya Dolokhov - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This book is a wonderfully written story that tells both the story of Gino Bartali, the epic cyclist of the old guard, who famously won the Tour de France twice, TEN YEARS APART!, as well as the less known story of Gino's secret efforts to protect and save Jews persecuted during Italy during the era of WW II Nazi occupation. To read this book is pure delight as it lays the background magnificantly - explaining the importance of the bicyle in the 1930s and the gritty details of the early Tour de France and also setting the scene for Gino's heroism by providing the backdrop of Italian Fascism, Nazi persecution of Jews, and the post-war rebuilding effort.

This quick and easy read is the best book of the year.
12 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Great Look at Wartime Italy 14 mai 2012
Par Rick Mitchell - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
So much is written about Britain and France in WWII, this is book's insight into the civilians of Italy before the war, during and after is terrific. It also sheds a lot of light on cycling. Cycling to Italians during this period was like baseball to Americans at the same time. Heroes were huge and race followed closely.

Gino Bartali grew up poor and lived for a bicycle. He then lived for bicycle racing. Just as he peaked, winning the 1938 Tour de France, the war broke out and his career was put on hold while he grew old for the sport. During the war he worked clandestinely as a courier, carrying forbidden false ID's and paperwork to save Italy's Jews from the German occupiers and remaining Facsists. After the war, he entered the Tour de France again in 1948 when he was well over-the-hill. overcoming all odds, he won the race after a plea from his friend, Italy's prime minister. The communist leader had just been shot and Italy was ion the verge of civil war. Bartoli's inspiring win calmed Italians back at home and moved their focus from the violence to sport and a national hero.

As Sergeant Joe Friday would say, that's the facts. This books transcends the facts, putting all of them in perspective. This devoutly Catholic man was thrust into his times' events without looking to be a hero. The events and times made him more than just a champion bike racer. He was a symbol, a hero, a member of the resistance, and an optimistic the focal point for a country having faced decimation and facing possible civil war and unrest as it tried to raise from the near dead after the war.

This is an excellent book and highly recommended.
10 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
True story about a fascinating man 12 juin 2012
Par AnneB - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I had not heard of Gino Bartali before reading this book, I do not follow the Tour de France and know very little about the sport. I read this because I always enjoy books about WWII and I really enjoyed this one. I usually read historical fiction and was concerned that this book might be a boring but Bartali is a larger than life character that was so fascinating to read about that I was not bored once through the entire book.

The authors do a great job of beginning the story with Bartali's struggles in his early years and really showing his passion for bicycles. They also wrote about the importance of bicycles in Italy during this time in general and how many of the population used them for their main form of transportation. I love reading books about Italy and this book gave me a whole new look at the country. I usually read about the countryside and the food, in this one I read about the poor neighborhoods and what bicycle races meant to so many people in the country.

The actual races that are discussed were fun to read about. I had no idea that the races were as long and dangerous as they were described in the book, it made for an exciting read. I have so much more appreciation for the strength and endurance of the racers in this sport.

There is lots of information about the politics in Italy during this time. Since I do read a lot of WWII books I did know some of the things talked about but I got a much more in depth idea of the different political problems facing the country. Mussolini is discussed often, he would hinder Bartali a few times in his quest for winning races. The parts about Italy during the war are at times heartbreaking, the people suffered to much. It was really inspiring to see men like Bartali risk their lives to help others that had little hope.

The heart of this story is of course, Gino Bartali. I must admit that I am now a huge fan after reading this book. He was a good man- a determined athlete, a war hero, devoted husband and father, and faithful to his religion. I loved reading about him and think that anyone who likes a good story about a great athlete and man would love to read Road to Valor.
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