Friday, 5 August 2022

Sydney Book Launch of Paradiso A Novel July 2022

A great book launch in Sydney. Fifty book lovers turned out on a Thursday night in the middle of a squally Sydney winter to share an hour and a half with Nick Fury and myself at Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt.

Nick and I are old clown mates from way back, so as well as telling some good stories of Italy and travel, and little known aspects of this 19th century Italian-Australian story, we also managed to revisit a few old clown moments. The audience was a little bemused to begin with but warmed up quickly and understood that book launches could be both informative and funny.

Thanks to Co.As.It. and the Sydney Italian Cultural Institute for agreeing to support this event. The result was a mixed audience of descendants, local Italian community members (hi to Joe at Bar Sport who came along with his two daughters) and some general Sydney-siders who were all interested in this remarkable story. In retrospect I must apologize to any native Italian speakers who might have not thought my mock Italian was as funny as I did. It was the best I could do, having lost the language two generations back when speaking English was the only way to fit in.

The novel is now available at the following Sydney Book Stores:

Berkelouw Books. Leichhardt

Abbey's Bookshop,York St Sydney

Gleebooks, Glebe

Gleebooks, Dulwich Hill

Better Read than Dead, Newtown

There is also a spare copy at Anthony Albenese's Electoral Office in Marrickville. I suspect he won't get around to reading it for a couple of terms of Parliament. He seems pretty busy.

Saturday, 5 March 2022

 Paradiso is now available in Sydney at "Better Read Than Dead" - King St, Newtown AND "Abbey's Bookshop", York St,  City.

A Sydney book launch is planned for July hosted by Co.As.It (Italian Welfare League), Norton Street, Leichhardt. 


My family links to Norton Street run deep so it will be special.  My grandfather and his brother ran a very successful fruit and vegetable business at the corner of Parramatta Rd and Norton Street between 1905 and 1915. They married two Irish sisters who lived a few blocks away and then things went pear shaped.  It's central to the book I'm currently working on. 

Here's my mate Nick reading Paradiso at Annandale. He's one of my Sydney agents.


Saturday, 19 February 2022

Paradiso Review by Cass Moriarty


A beautifully written historical account of the real-life migration of 300 Italian peasants in 1880, Paradiso (AndAlso Books 2021) by Steve Capelin is rich in detail and description, and captures a time of adventure, hope, sacrifice, betrayal, tribulation and resilience. 

Full review:
Paradiso (AndAlso Books 2021) by Steve Capelin is a beautifully written account of a particular historical time and place, exploring the harsh reality of life 150 years ago, the human drive and determination to succeed and flourish and to provide a better life for your family, and a tale of adventure (or misadventure) on the high seas. The novel (inspired by or based on real-life events from the author’s family) features immersive and evocative imagery of setting and place. Capelin describes the light, the sky, the sea, the landscape in a captivating way that allows the reader to be fully immersed in the story.

Set predominately in 1880, this is the true saga of 300 Italian peasants who abandon their lives and connections to join a French expedition which promises wealth, freedom and prosperity in a Pacific colony. Capelin is a descendant of this expedition, and his diligent research has informed the book with significant details that depict what the migrants would have seen, heard, touched, tasted, smelt, experienced and felt. The prose is amplified by meticulous editing by Bianca Milroy. 

The story features Lorenzo Perin who is prepared to risk everything, and his wife Caterina, who is not so optimistic, and is told through the alternating voices of their two children, eight-year-old Dominic and his older sister, Marietta. Dominic yearns for adventure while his sister would like to escape her life of obligation. But when they arrive in New Guinea – a totally foreign land and climate, peopled with natives, animals and plants that are strange to them – it is apparent that the expedition has not been as well planned or well-resourced as the peasants were promised. Supplies dwindle; disease and illness take hold. What begins as a hopeful dream becomes a harsh nightmare of hunger, sickness, dashed expectations and death. 

There is a large cast of characters in this novel, so that I had trouble keeping up with them all; sometimes the names/personalities blended together. But the stable thread of the voices of Dominic and Marietta propel the story forward as the reader discovers, along with the two children, the challenges and difficulties they must confront. Much of the story takes place on one of several sea journeys, and these are depicted with a minutiae of exactly which tools and implements, food and clothing, tasks and work would have predominated. 

The last chapter is set in 1918 in Australia, when Dominic is an adult, and although I could see the author’s theme in connecting the earlier migrant experience with the treatment of Italian migrants during World War I, this felt a little disconnected to me, almost as if this could be a completely other book. Perhaps Capelin will develop this plot line into another book, because it is certainly rich material, but quite separate from the main body of the story. 

The themes of sacrifice, betrayal, love, friendship, familial obligation, religion, resilience, hope, freedom and escape are navigated with authentic relationships within families, within the wider group and between the migrants and the people they meet along the way. This is obviously a story that has been researched and written with an intense devotion and a determination to pay homage to the author’s ancestors and the challenges they faced. 

The most impressive aspect of this book, besides the research, is the writing. Capelin has a real gift for interpreting dialogue, actions and events of the past with authenticity, and his prose is lyrical and detailed. He takes us into the hearts and minds of these weary travellers and gives us a vivid, first-hand account. This fictionalised account of true events will appeal to history buffs, to anyone interested in migration and emigration, to those keen to know more about life in the late 1800’s, and to those who enjoy stories about families and communities who exit one life and embrace another in the hope of a better future. 

Friday, 17 September 2021

Launch of Paradiso

 AVID Reader window display. Wonderfully generous people. Launch on tonight, 9 July despite Covid restrictions.



Its been eight years in the making but I'm excited to inform you that publication of the novel is in the pipeline. The projected date for release is July 2021.

I'll release more information as the process moves forward.

The story: Three hundred Italians sign up for a Frenchman's crazy scheme to establish a utopian colony in the Pacific. The destination, unknown to them, is Papua New Guinea; a remote location on the southern tip of New Ireland which even to this day is almost impossible to visit. It's  a disaster story, a story of hope, a story of survival and ultimately success. The story is told through  the eyes of brother and sister, Domenico and Marietta Perin, my distant cousins, half brother and half sister to my grandfather.

It is the story of my ancestors and their attempt to escape the poverty of Veneto in 1879.

It's a work of imagination based on true events.

Monday, 11 September 2017

War in the Balkans - My Take Part III

Yugoslavia 1989 showing ethnic distribution
Trust is destroyed. Fear abounds. The Yugoslav Federation gathers in Bucherest to discuss the situation. Croatian, Slovenian and Montenegan presidents propose a solution which would give them autonomy within the federation. Milosevic and the presidents he has secured the support of, notably Kosovo and Bosnia, reject this proposal.  There is a series of meetings seeking to resolve their differences but ultimately they break down. Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro walk out on the talks declaring that the Federated Communist Party of Yugoslavia is henceforth dissolved.Since 1989Yugoslavia has allowed a degree of democracy in that new political parties are permitted. Moderate and pro democracy parties emerge. Elections are held in Slovenia and Croatia and these moderate parties are elected. Croatia and Slovenia announce that they will declare independence. On the day of the announcement Yugoslav airforce jets attack Zagreb targeting the parliament building. The President narrowly escapes his intended fate and the declaration proceeds.

There is a short 10 day war in Slovenia which ends after Milosevic concludes that Slovenia is not of great interest having fewer Serbians in its population. In Croatia conflict breaks out initiated by local Serbian militia and Serbian members of the police force. They take control of the main highway between Zagreb and the south. Their action is immediately supported by Milosivic and the Serbian dominated Yugoslav armed forces. Croatia is hamstrung by a UN agreement which has been brokered, restraining them from accessing or importing military equipment. This is an attempt to allow time for a negotiated settlement but only results in Serbian troops gaining control of about one third of the country.

1991-1995. The war continues with the Croartians slowly gaining the upper hand. Tens of thousands of both Serb and Croats are displaced. Families of mixed heritage (Serb/Croat/Bosnian) who had embraced Tito's vision of an integrated multi ethnic society are riven with conflict, neighbours turn on each other believing the propaganda of their respective leaders.Towns are razed to the ground. Zagreb, Dubrovnic, Split and Zadar are shelled. The UN plays an ineffective role but by mid 1995 Croatia has regained control over all it former territory and hostilities cease.

This period also sees the fall of the Berlin wall (Novmber 1989) and the break-up of the Soviet Union.(December 1991).

And that's only part of the shit-fight. In Bosnia-Herzegovina a war rages (1992-1996) between Bosnian Serbs and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), backed by Serbia and Croatia respectively, each with aspirations to annex part of that state. The conflict becomes is three way with Croatian Serbian and Bosnian forces attacking each other until, with USA urging, Croatian and Bosnian forces unite to fight against Serbia..Massacres, ethnic cleansing, systematic rape as a strategy of both subjugation and social destruction take place. The most tragic element of the conflict is the siege of the capital, Sarajevo, where the city is totally destroyed and isolated for almost three years. 250,000 people die and two million are displaced. Milosovic maintains that he has not ordered any of this, merely spoken passionately of his vision for a Greater Serbia.

In 1995 a peace agreement is negotiated in Dayton Ohio USA and signed in Paris in December of 1995 by the Presidents of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Dayton Accord signed 1995 - Paris
1998 ethnic distribution
Milosevic is humiliated. He becomes the President of the surviving Yugoslavia (1998-2000) and continues his mission to create an ethnically pure Serbian state. In 1998 and 1999 Serb nationals in Kosovo take action to secure Serbian dominated territory while Kosovo nationals declare independence and set up an alternative government. The Yugoslav Government, now only Serbia and Montenegro, directly intervenes to impose its control and to suppress Kosovo Albanian resistance. NATO intervenes and controversially takes direct military action against Serbian forces. the conflict ends in mid 1999. Milosovic is defeated in the elections of 2000 and steps down as president.

In 2002 Milosevic is extradited to The Hague to face charges of war crimes and genocide but dies in prison in 2006 of natural causes before his trial is completed. 

Today there is little evidence of the war. It's a topic not discussed openly. There is a small museum devoted to the attack on Zagreb in 1991, but it's in a building with no signage whereas the many other museums in Zagreb trumpet their presence proudly. Kristina tells us she has friends from all ethnic backgrounds but the one "off limits" topic is the war. It's too risky, too raw. It would risk the friendships. I am impressed by Kristina. She is one of the brave ones. She is  prepared to speak honestly about this tragic era.

Balkans 2015
So is this the truth or just another piece of propaganda? Is it too coloured by Kristina's loyalty to Croatia? Am I making presumptions by even committing these impressions to print? I am assuming there are others who have been confused by the complexity of this period and who have been affected by it. The war created a flood of refugees across the globe and sadly those families often took their troubled history with them to their new destination country. Things are pretty quiet in Croatia and the Dalmatian states nowadays. People are more concerned with issues of employment and survival. Croatia has joined the EU but remains the poor cousin and over 150,000 young people leave he country each year searching for a new life in the larger EU family.

I invite you to read a highly regarded book, "The Death of Yugoslavia" also available as a BBC five part documentary of the same name on youtube.

I apologize for any errors of fact and would welcome any feedback.

War in the Balkans - My Take Part II

Tito 1943

The Partisans are anti-facist and united by ideology rather than ethnicity and as a result attract both Croats and Serbs to their cause. In fact so successful and popular is the Partisan movement that it spreads across the length and breadth of Yugoslavia and by the end of WWII its composition has changed radically and is now 9% Croats and 70% Serb.They are a well drilled military force of 800,000.

To complicate matters further there had emerged a movement in Croatia which was composed of Croatian Serbs known as Chetniks, seeking to establish independent control over areas where Serbs are in the majority. They used similar tactics to the Ustace but in the opposite direction, targeting Croats and Bosnians within Croatia.

Still with me? Kristina talked to us for three hours explaining this. My apologies if it's a bit dense. Kristina gave us a couple of short breaks so feel free to make a cup of tea and come back (or not).

The war ends. The Germans leave and Tito and the Partisans (they deserve a capital "P"
by now) gain the upper hand. But remember, Tito was rather enamored of Stalin? Under his leadership the Partisans are just as ruthless as the Ustace. Tito initiates a policy of retaliation targeting members of the Ustace and any suspected collaborators. Up to 100,000 people are massacred, many being children and women fleeing towards Austria to seek safety in the hands of the Allied forces.

1945 - Marshall Tito (who is Croatian born) becomes the leader of the new Communist State of Yugoslavia.

1948 - Stalin attempts to bring this new federation under his wing. Tito rebuffs him and chooses what becomes known as "Soft Communism". He is intent on maintaining unity across the traditional ethnic lines. Each state is allowed a certain degree of automony; ethnic groups are encouraged to move between states, intermarry etc in the hope of breeding an integrated Yugoslav community. Still, he suppresses all opposition ruthlessly while managing to forge alliances with both Western and Eastern bloc countries. He is a genius at diplomacy. He also charms his way into the every Yugoslav's heart. Though Croatian born he rules from Bucharest, the capital of the Serbian state. Over time Croatia, which is relatively wealthy and earns a lot of foreigh revenue, begins to feel a bit hard done by. They contribute a lot to the Yugoslav coffers but perceive that the major beneficiary is Serbia.

1980 - Tito dies with no clear succession plan. The Central Yugoslav Parliament elects to offer each of the Yugoslav State Presidents a rotating role as President. This is intended as a way of maintaining unity but backfires badly. It is unclear who is leading the country, rivalries emerge and the most dangerous of these is the Serbian politician Slobodan Milosevic. He is ambitious and aggressively pro Serbian and manages to take control of Serbia, becoming President in 1989 on a promise to "Make Serbia Great Again". He uses Kosovo as his lever. The population of Kosovo is about 75% Albanian. The Serb minority have aspirations to take control deeming the Kosovo territory to be historically Serbian. The Kosovo Serbs foment rallies and when Milosevic visits they stage a violent rally with the specific intent of provoking the Kosovo police. A street battle ensues. The Serbs complain of being beaten and Milosevic promises them: "You will never be beaten again".

Slobodan Milosevic
He seeks permission from the Yugoslav central government to give him special powers to deal with the Kosovo situation. He encourages Serbs to rally in front of parliament in Belgrade. One million people attend chanting his name. He is their saviour. The parliament reluctantly agrees to his demands. It is based on a lie

1991 - Croatia and Slovenia have been observing these events with trepidation. Milosevic is on the rise. Serbian nationalism is rampant - inflammatory speeches are made by Milosevic, often misrepresenting the real situation, Croatian militia are accused of massacres of their Serbian/Croatian brothers and sisters; he reminds the Serbian public of the horrors of the Ustace era.