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Valerio Massimo Manfredi is a professor of classical archaeology at Luigi Bocconi University in Milan. He has many works of fiction, including the “Alexander” trilogy, published in over 20 countries. He is the author of The Ides of March, published by Europa Editions in 2010.
A superb writer (and translator) at work in this saga of an Italian family stretching from the 1910s to WWII. A fine blend of story-telling and the author's political perspective (socialist and anti-fascist) that documents the lives of the large (six brothers and two sisters) Bruni family, Emilia-Romagno tenant farmers, who endure poverty, rapacious landlords, two wars and political repression with a mix of courage, passivity, resignation, wisdom and thickheadiness. Virtue and bravery are often not rewarded as the author makes an argument for social justice--by implication--in contemporary Italy.
The novel's great strengths are the well-sketched characters and their interactions as well as a smoothly flowing storyline that builds on vignettes, one after the other. Characters come and go, as one generation replaces the previous. While there is incremental progress for the Brunis and their extended families, the plagues of war, economic hardship and government repression are never distance.
"A Winter's Night" is so well done, that I'm going to try author Manfredi's other novels soon.
For three hundred pages, this was a magnificent family saga, an epic account of the first half of the twentieth century told through the eyes of people who are not epic at all: a family of tenant farmers in Northern Italy. Manfredi's unique narrative style, which combines the personal stories of the Bruni family with folk tales that must have been around for centuries, is like nothing I have ever read. Writing clearly from personal connection to his birthplace which is still his home (a small community west of Bologna), he combines an earthy simplicity with great passion in heartwarming stories of generosity, romance, small victories, and a few tragedies. Only at the end, when the story -- like the history of Italy itself -- becomes fragmented and directionless, does the book lose steam, but it is magnificent before that.
The first chapters, admittedly, are a little confusing. The Bruni family (father, mother, seven sons, and two daughters) is a large one, and there are a lot of names to digest all at once -- but stick with it; they will sort themselves out before long. The book's Italian title (the smooth translation is by the author's wife) is "Otel Bruni," so-called because of the family's generous habit of feeding and lodging anyone who comes to their barn in the depths of winter, so there are even more colorful characters from outside the family. The early sections, with their folk tales and peasant superstitions, reminded me of Gianni Celati's VOICES FROM THE PLAINS, a fascinating account of rural life in a small area of Italy, where people speak the local language and stick with their own kind.Read more ›
(3.5 stars) In this old-fashioned, once-upon-a-time-in-the-old-country" saga set in northern Italy, author Valerio Massimo Manfredi introduces the Bruni family of farmers. Living in the rural hills outside of Bologna, Callisto and Clerice Bruni, parents of seven sons and two daughters, have worked the same land as generations of their ancestors. During the cold winters, the barn becomes the night-time gathering place for the family, since the warmth of their cows keeps the barn warmer than the house, and they willingly offer a warm place there to any travelers or passersby who need a place to sleep. Some of these strangers tell stories to amuse the family, some of them help with the farm work, some stay for a few days, some stay for weeks, and some have been visiting so often over the years that the family now knows them well.
One evening in January, 1914, a neighbor, arrives, alarmed by his encounter with a stranger whose eyes "were as red as a demon's." The stranger insists that he has seen "the golden goat" in the hills in front of him, "shining in the middle of the swirling snow." The goat's red eyes suggest the devil, and the old man's sudden disappearance emphasizes his own other-worldly origins. In the past, each sighting of the golden goat has presaged some disaster, and this sighting is interpreted as signifying "a catastrophe the likes of which no one has ever seen." A few months later, World War I begins.
The war changes the very heart of the nation, and no one can ever believe again in the simplicity of a golden goat as an explanation for the catastrophes that have affected the country. All seven Bruni sons participate in this war.Read more ›