While the figure of Giuseppe Garibaldi is widely known and often admired for his fierce personality and his role in the unification of Italy, another figure, very close to him, is mostly ignored. No wonder, it’s a woman (!). Anita Garibaldi, Giuseppe’s wife, was such a profound inspiration for him, and a big personality in her own right, a revolutionary herself, who fought alongside Giuseppe in South America and in Italy.
A newly published book, “The Woman in Red,” may finally help bring more prominence to the figure of Anita. The book, written by Diana Giovinazzo, explores the fascinating life story of this “heroine of two worlds,” both her role in the politics of the 19th century and her intense love story with Giuseppe Garibaldi.
We reached out to Giovinazzo to ask her a few questions about the book and why this story needed to be told.
Can you give our readers a little background on yourself, and what your connection to Italy is?
I was born and raised in Utica, New York, but moved out to the Los Angeles area about twenty years ago. With the exception of a three-year stint in Texas when my husband was an active duty soldier, I have been here ever since.
Luckily, I was born into a very large and loud Italian family from Calabria and Sicily. Sunday dinners around the table were filled with stories and laughter. In a lot of ways, I think my family helped train me to be a storyteller.
In addition to writing, I created a podcast called “Wine, Women and Words,” along with my best friend (and fellow Italian) Michele. Like the name says, we drink wine and talk about books, two of the best things in life. I am also the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Women’s National Book Association.
- How did you become interested in this specific subject?
My great grandparents immigrated to New York in 1913 and 1915, respectively. I was in the midst of researching how they came to the United States when my questions went from how they came here to why?
As with most cases of immigration, people don’t spontaneously leave their home country. There are mitigating circumstances like war, famine, etc. I wanted to know what circumstances caused my family to leave Italy. When I was in the midst of researching Italian history, my father suggested that I start reading about the Garibaldis and their impact on Italian history. And shortly thereafter, I became addicted to the history surrounding Italian Unification.
- Why did you feel the urge to tell the story of Anita Garibaldi?
From the moment that I first read a book about Anita, I was enthralled. She was this incredible woman who did so much in such a short time period. Yet, in the rare instances that Anita is discussed, she is nothing more than a footnote in Giuseppe’s story. Anita was so much more than that, she inspired him. Their love for each other was epic, Garibaldi called her the queen of his soul.
Furthermore, Anita fought for the freedom of the people in South America and Italy, often while pregnant! She thought nothing of riding into battle while eight months pregnant. Her story is one that is overdue to be told. She is a hero in her own right.
- What were the most surprising aspects of Anita's story that you discovered during your research for the book?
There is an infamous story about Anita, where she spent a whole night scouring a deserted battlefield for the possible body of Giuseppe Garibaldi, while very pregnant. In one book I read, it stated she did it out of devotion for him but when I got to that section of her memoirs she didn’t even mention the incident.
At first, I thought that maybe this had been an exaggeration, or worst that it never happened. So, I turned to Giuseppe’s autobiography and he talked about it. He said Anita had “words” with her captors and that she had searched for him.
The whole thing drove me crazy! But it wasn’t until I got to the end of her memoirs that I found out what happened. She was speaking with a priest and when he asked her to confess her sins, she confessed the sin of vanity. That was when she spoke about searching for her husband who may or may not have been dead. In those moments, she thought about how she could be more famous than the legendary Giuseppe Garibaldi. How she and her unborn child could run away and make something of herself.
After reading that story, it really hit home, for me at least, how lucky I am. I could be a person in my own right without my husband’s approval or any other man’s approval. These little things that so many of us take for granted she had to fight for. It was why I chose to open the book with that scene.
- Can you explain the meaning of the title "The Woman in Red" to our readers?
The red shirts were the freedom fighters led by Giuseppe Garibaldi. Anita, being both one of his advisors and a fighter in her own right, was an unsung red shirt, hence, The Woman in Red.
- What aspects of Anita's personality do you admire most?
Anita was notoriously sarcastic, something I can relate to and had a lot of fun writing. She was stubborn and headstrong; what can often be seen as a negative trait in women is something I find valuable. It takes being headstrong to make it in this world.
One of the other things that I really related to her on was being married to a soldier. Though I didn’t get to travel with my husband to Afghanistan, I understood what it was like for her to worry about Garibaldi.
One of the lines in the early chapters was “to be tied to a soldier meant that I would have a life of perpetually waiting for death.” That was something that I could truly relate to as I am sure most military spouses can. I understood her worry about whether or not there would be a grave to mourn her husband or what it’s like to go off with them to another country or state where you have to start your life all over again.
- What can Anita teach us about feminism and female empowerment?
Anita was a woman who survived despite of her circumstances. She rose above what society told her she had to be. She was truly fearless. I think her story is something that can truly resonate with many women, I know it certainly did for me.
- Anything you'd like to add?
She truly was a woman of the people. I know Garibaldi can be a polarizing figure within Italian history, but Anita was a woman who constantly thought about others and the welfare of people, whether they be in her home country of Brazil or in her adopted home of Italy.