From Publishers Weekly
The first copies of this, Moravia's last book, came off the press in Italy 10 years ago, on the day he died. A unique interview-autobiography, the book offers a series of questions and answers that allowed the renowned Italian novelist to share his thoughts on the events that inspired his imaginationAmaterial that is sure to be of special interest to academics and students of Italian literature and politics. Throughout, Moravia's style of speech parallels that of his proseAintensely self-possessed, sprinkled with piercing analysis, striking observations, unconventional opinions and daring statements, all sustained by a self-assured nonchalance that never edges into arrogance. While the extended interview, conducted by Moravia's friend Elkann, contains typical musings on books, writers and personalities, Moravia clearly prefers to speak about his life. Censored both by Mussolini's fascist government and the Vatican, he countered by using allegory to indirectly present reality. The strength of this book is in the insight it provides into how Moravia's literary works were built upon his experiences. As a child and young man, Moravia suffered from tuberculosis. Confined to his bed with no friends or social life, only books and his imagination offered solace. At the age of 18, he began drafting his first novel, The Time of Indifference, perhaps the first European existentialist novel, which when published three years later was an immediate success. While the interview format of this autobiography proves monotonous, the author's innate delectation for storytelling and his craving for adventure, both real and imaginary, ensure a bevy of dynamic anecdotes. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Reviewed with Alberto Moravia's The Time of Indifference.
Moravia's autobiography is in the form of an interview between the two writers, but it is more like the film-scripted conversation My Dinner with Andre in its well-thought-out questions and polished answers than an interview in a magazine. Moravia and Elkann knew each other well, which undoubtedly accounts for the charming civility that runs through this book. Moravia was Italy's leading man of letters during his lifetime. He died in 1990, on the day that finished copies of this book arrived from the printers. The book has not been available in English until now. In the U.S., we are more familiar with the name Moravia in film credits, as many of his novels were adapted for film, particularly by Bernardo Bertolucci, whose film based on a Moravia novel, The Conformist , was awarded an Academy Award for its screenplay. Reading this book is like taking an independent seminar in Italian culture with Moravia, a well-bred, sensitive man who embraced life passionately. He talks about the major Italian writers (Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Luigi Pirandello, his close friend Pier Paolo Pasolini, his lovers Elsa Morante and Dacia Maraini), painters (Giorgio de Chirico, Carlo Levi), politicians (Aldo Moro, Guiseppe Mazzini), and directors (De Sica, Rossellini, Visconti, Fellini) and slips in great anecdotes about these people and so many more.Moravia's first novel, Gli Indifferenti (The Time of Indifference ), was first published in 1929, when Moravia was 21 years old, and established him as a world-class writer. The story is simple; it concerns the reactions of members of a bourgeois family to impending financial crisis. The mother, Mariagrazia, clutches her bored, unscrupulous lover, Leo, who sexually covets her daughter, Carla, though Mariagrazia's jealousy centers on her friend, Lisa, who chases Mariagrazia's son, Michele. Michele is the protagonist, if for no other reason than his actions bring the drama to its climax. When Michele discovers that Leo is seducing his sister, he wants to respond aggressively and decisively, but as usual, after an initial surge of energy, his resolve dissipates and indifference threatens to halt any action. Moravia's use of internal monologues is extremely clever and effective in conveying Michele's pain in particular. The novel itself displays elements of the dramatic play in its unity of time and setting, but one may agree with Moravia that its stronger achievement is its claim as the first existential novel. It's a very special treat for readers to have this first novel reissued with the autobiography. Moravia often discusses it in the autobiography; but, just reading the two together, first the novel and then immediately the autobiography, is so much fun and so very enlightening. Bonnie Smothers
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