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ROME (Reuters) - Thirty-six passionate letters discovered on the Italian island of Lipari have revealed an illicit love affair between the daughter of former Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and a prominent Communist partisan.
Written in French, English and Italian, the secret correspondence has inspired a new book: "Edda Ciano and the Communist. The unspeakable passion of the Duce's Daughter."
"There is no novelistic embellishment," said author Marcello Sorgi, who describes his book as a "journalistic reconstruction" of the romance.
The letters, dated from September 1945 to April 1947, chart the affair between Mussolini's eldest child and Leonida Bongiorno, a regional Communist leader and son of an influential anti-Fascist.
Edda had previously been married to Galeazzo Ciano, a loyal Fascist who rose to become foreign minister but executed by his father-in-law after dissenting in July 1943. Despite Edda's appeals, Mussolini had Ciano tied to a chair and shot.
After the Fascist regime fell toward the end of World War Two, Edda was held in detention on Lipari, off Sicily.
There she met Bongiorno at the end of a demonstration and he afterwards described how "she looked like a wounded little swallow with shattered wings."
The love affair which ensued is chronicled in the letters, hidden along with annotated mementos, photographs and locks of hair in an old wardrobe in the house of Leonida's son Edoardo.
"Leonida was well aware of the contradiction between his political conscience as a Communist and a partisan and his relationship with the daughter of Il Duce," Sorgi told Reuters.
"He seems to have justified it to himself with the precarious state of her health. Since she was the 'wounded little swallow' he couldn't leave her to die."
According to the letters, which detail the couple's first amorous encounter on the terrace of Leonida's home, Edda was at first reluctant to involve herself emotionally.
But after release from Lipari in June 1946 she returned to her children in Rome, where she begged Leonida: "Come and live with me. Don't abandon the happiness that God is offering you."
However, Leonida had by then met his future wife Angela and the two met only once more in a hotel in the Sicilian town of Messina. Leonida returned to Lipari and married Angela.
Edda Ciano, who strongly denied active personal involvement in the Fascist regime, died in Rome in 1995.
Mussolini, executed in April 1945 and hung up for public display in Milan, remains an ambiguous figure in Italian history. Reviled by many as the leader of a racist, oppressive police state, others say he modernized Italy and its economy.
Editing by Daniel Flynn and Jon Boyle