Thursday, July 05, 2012
Book Review: Road to Valor
Road to Valor: a True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation by Aili and Andres McConnon, Crown Publishers, 2012.
For casual fans of the Tour de France, Gino Bartali’s name is the answer to trivia questions: Who holds the record for longest time span between Tour victories? Who is one of the oldest riders to win the Tour? What’s largely unknown is the story of Bartali’s life between those victories and what made him not just a champion, but a hero.
Road to Valor chronicles Bartali’s early life as a gifted cyclist and the son of an impoverished Tuscan family. Bartali’s 1938 Tour de France win comes on the verge of WWII and his heroic victory and promising career are overshadowed by the rise of Fascism and Italy’s entry into the war on the side of Hitler.
During the war, Bartali, a devout Christian and Catholic activist, becomes involved in a network of smugglers who risk their lives and families to help Italian Jews obtain identity papers, food, and housing during the German occupation.
After the war, Bartali resumes his cycling career. Ridiculed for being too old and dismissed by all but his most ardent fans, Bartali summons the courage and strength to conquer the mountains again and emerges victorious in the 1948 Tour de France.
The McConnons have produced a well-researched, fascinating story of a classic hero. Bartali’s talent, faith, and independent streak inspired a nation and saved hundreds of lives. I found myself unable to put this story down--both physically and mentally as I reflected on Bartali’s life, his choices, and how a simple man of conviction becomes a hero in the face of extreme adversity.
Highly recommended for fans of cycling, readers of WWII books, or anyone looking for an inspiring story. This is a dramatic story that will have you cheering.