Dealing with the XX Century

Chronicles of the last century


(Saronno, 1978), is a writer. He received a Ph.D. in Theory of Literature from the University of Bergamo – where he kept on working for some years as a researcher...

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This article aims to be a small examination of a phenomenon that I think some of the most interesting titles released recently in the Italian libraries share: namely the trend – if it can truly be called a trend – to deal finally with the Twentieth century. The history of Italy, in short, told through more or less great stories, using characters, sometimes are real and sometimes fictional who, thanks to a certain narrative device, cross centuries and experience firsthand two world wars, Fascism, the economic boom, and the Seventies. And so on. There does not seem to me to have existed, in Italian literature preceding the examples I am about to provide, such an encyclopaedic attempt: there have been attempts, even worthy ones, to construct the “great Italian novel”, but these were isolated events. Only in the last month, however, there have been two novels published in our country that are also chronicles of the last century. Perhaps, now that the Twentieth century is long gone, times really have become ripe not only for analysing it, but also for observing it retrospectively and recounting it.

8169TuWWFtLAntonio Pennacchi for the last 6 years has been working on his great fresco of the Italian Twentieth century: ‘Canale Mussolini’ is an enormous tripartite novel of which the first two parts have been published. In 2010, the first part, published by Mondadori, was a literary sensation: it won the Strega Prize, entered the charts and was translated into many languages. It tells the tale of a farming family, the Peruzzi – alter ego of the Pennacchi family, who emigrated from the Veneto region to southern Lazio. Following their adventures, Pennacchi gives an account of Italy from the nineteen tens to the Second World War; in between, the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes, the fascist gangs, life in the camps, the colonies. The second part, ‘Canale Mussolini. Parte seconda’ (Mondadori, 2015), starts where the first one finished: in 1944. It narrates the reconstruction of a world which was almost destroyed by the war, examines the recently fallen dictatorship, and brings the reader up to the brink of the democratic breakthrough in 1946.

71oEUkBxGuL‘La gemella H’, the novel which Giorgio Falco published for Einaudi in 2014 and with which he won the Selezione Campiello Prize, tells the story of the life of the Hinner family, Germans who emigrated to Italy. Today the daughter Hilde, now very old, traces her family history, made up of compromises with fascist dictatorships as well as big and small power games, through the years of economic boom and mass tourism, to join us.

811N2rdYXcLThe saga of the Crusich family – a family of triestine origin who in actual fact represent the family of the author Gianmarco Calligarich -, starts at the outset of the twentieth century. ‘La malincolia dei Crusich’ (Bompiani, 2016) also starts with a migration: the father, Luigi, leaves Italy for Corfu, where he prospers in business and has six children. With the outbreak of the First World War, however, the family’s exile begins. Calligarich follows each child and nephew throughout the course of the rest of century – he tells the story of how they join the Fascist movement and go to Africa, when they try to start again in Milan after World War II, when they retreat to the lakes or when, forced once more by their circumstances to emigrate, they choose South America – the final frontier of a nomadic family. Divided by history but united by love, in a paradigmatic way, a parable which sums up the entire century.

71VhtZHQrqLLe cento vite di Nemesio by Marco Rossari (e/o, 2016) instead recounts the story of a father and son: Nemesio, the father, a great painter who suffers a stroke on the day of his one hundredth birthday celebration; Nemesio (known as Nemo), the son, who for thirty years has lived in the shadow of his great father who is indifferent to him – that he goes to great lengths to do nothing and stay as far away as possible from this paternal shadow. His father’s stroke, however, changes everything: at night, whilst Nemesio lies in a hospital bed, Nemo dreams of his father’s life in from his birth to the present. And it was the epitome of a crazy life: born in 1899, Nemesio lived through two wars, fought in Spain, and knew the Futurists, Lombroso, the great avant-garde artists, and the Iron Curtain. The Twentieth century happens to him, he has lived in every important moment in the century’s history, it lives on his skin, it flows through him. And he himself is the incarnation of the century of which he was one of the artistic greats. Thus, with compelling as well as comic language (books examining the Twentieth century are rarely comical), Rossari has created another way of viewing the Twentieth century and, above all, another way of placing Italy and its people within it.


Translation by Patrick Chambers

21 October 2016

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