- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (June 9, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374113483
- ASIN: B005IUUT3K
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,114,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone First Edition Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
There was a time when Ignazio Silone was the most famous Italian author in the world. His earliest novels, such as Fontamara and Bread & Wine, were praised for their depictions of peasant life in his native Abruzzo. As Pugliese reveals in this solid and engaging biography, Silone's literary reputation in his own country was complicated by his political legacy; having joined the Italian Communists to advocate social justice and fight fascism, the author was dismayed by the party's authoritarian tendencies and was eventually expelled. Pugliese (whose previous book was on Carlo Rosselli, Silone's contemporary in the Italian socialist movement) builds his biographical case in careful blocs of information, describing the drama while maintaining the narrative. This holds true even during a review of the controversial discovery, 20 years after Silone's death, of documents that suggest he might have given information to the Fascist police while still a Party member. In graceful prose, Pugliese offers a few intriguing theories (was Silone shielding someone? was he hiding a homosexual affair?), but reluctantly concedes that we may never know the full truth. Whatever did happen, Pugliese concludes, led Silone to create œsome of the most poignant and powerful fiction of the 20th century. (June)
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*Starred Review* Often compared to luminaries such as George Orwell and Graham Greene, Ignazio Silone has somehow eluded the attention of English-speaking biographers. Until now. With this assiduously researched work, Pugliese finally gives readers a mature account of a life that produced some of the twentieth century’s most powerful and widely translated literary art and political commentary. A compellingly detailed narrative reveals how a difficult childhood in rural Italy inspired religious faith that never fit within ecclesiastical orthodoxy and kindled political passion that defied ideological conformity. Readers see how the young writer risked imprisonment and death to help found Italy’s Communist Party but then repeatedly defied party leaders, denouncing Stalinist atrocities so fearlessly that his comrades expelled him from their movement. Yet Pugliese recognizes that this expulsion emancipated the novelist’s creative energies, liberating him to write fiction that would forever enrich European literature as it exposed the dehumanizing brutality of fascism in Fontamara and illuminated the risks of partisan commitment in Bread and Wine. In the autobiographical elements of Silone’s novels, some critics have adduced evidence that the young writer treacherously collaborated with Fascist authorities. Pugliese insists on a more ambiguous reading of the literary art—and of the life that produced it. A much-needed work of literary and political scholarship. --Bryce Christensen
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Prologue - The Landscape of my Soul
1. Saints and Stoncutters
2. The Choice of companions
3. Writing in/and Exile
5. The Problems of Post Fascism
6. Cold War Culture
7. The Painful Return
Epilogue - That Which Remains
The prologue: ''Further complicating his portrait is the essential paradox that defined him: his entrance into politics because of an essentially religious conception of the world. He became a socialist because he wanted to become a saint. As a priest says of one of Silone's characters, 'socialism was his way of serving God.' '' (5)
Secular religious devotion.
The grinding poverty of his childhood in southern Italy never left his heart. ''While the writer felt himself hounded by the lord, Silone's peasants ask, like Christ on the cross, ''My god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?'' Surely the most anguished and - for the Christian - the most disturbing line in the Bible.'' (7)
Jesus has feelings too. He did not learn suffering in heaven. He did learn suffering while human. Empathy has a cost.
Silone was a founder of the Italian communist party. Later expelled. Wrote a famous essay, ''Emergency Exit'', explaining why he no longer believed. Silone would not sacrifice morality and justice for an institution - communism or Catholicism. Expresses this powerfully in Brussels on November 3, 1950 with a speech entitled: ''Habeas Animan! Against the absolutism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, liberalism posited the concept of Habeas corpus. For Silone the twentieth century could respond to the depravities of totalitarianism only by counter posing 'Habeas Animan': the right of each person to his or her own soul. If in the past, certain colleagues could be accused of a lack of imagination and foresight, now it was time to charge them, ''If you still have ears, you have a sacred duty to listen. . . . It was, evidently, possible that a system of collective production could lead to a system of 'collective cannibalism.' Yet socialists should not yield their ideal to such a system.'' (204)
''Silone discerned in the Moscow show trials before and after the war a new (im)moral question: How did the the Russians manage to get the so many to condemn themselves? The 'diabolical secret' that many had speculated upon was well hidden as the secrets of the atomic bomb. Yet it's results were all to clear: the complete annihilation of the self, of persons who, in earlier periods of history, could well have withstood the tortures and depravity of the czarist and Nazi regimes. Thus, the Russian show trials posed moral, ethical and spiritual questions that we were not prepared to answer.'' (204)
This was sixty years ago. Still a trenchant warning.
''In the darkest days of WWII, a German communist Silone had known came to see him. The man was now gray and had suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazi's. In a voice filled with both hope and trepidation, he told Silone that he had come upon a great and new revelation: ''we ought to treat other men the way we would like to be treated ourselves!'' Silone could only smile with melancholy and did not dare to remind the man that this truth was already very old. The man had come to the truth by his own path.’’
Includes forty pages of notes, ten page bibliography and twenty four page index. No photographs.
Anyone interested in the agony of conscience of a sincere and compassionate thinker who struggled with the ideas and institutions of the modern world will be moved. Reminds me of others, such as St. George Jackson Mivart, who was expelled by the Darwinists and excommunicated by the Catholic Church. Also Max Plank agonizing in Nazi Germany.
I found two things to be strikingly revealed by this biographer. First, the way in which Silone, starting as a peasant boy in the poor rural South of Italy became a member of an intellectual elite of Europe that struggled with more or less success to try to understand, comment on, and in some way affect the terrible events that transpired in the first half of the twentieth century. The list of names is quite long and not all did well or did the right thing but this is a portrait of them as well. Second, Silone appears to me to have always been a follower of Jesus of Nazareth in the most fundamental way, the way revealed in the preaching of Jesus. Yet having made the terrible mistake of commitment to the Communist ideology which he then repudiated and attacked, he did not feel able to commit to the institution of the Catholic church despite what in many ways could be called his faithfulness to its Gospel.
Pugliese deals effectively with the post mortem accusation of collaboration with the Italian police in the Fascist era, leading us into the shadow world of conspiracy and collaboration, plot, and counter plot, between the Communist organization and the Fascist state apparatus and ending with no certain moral conclusion.
Biography is a always a somewhat problematic task as Pugliese discuss in his forward. But this is one of the more satisfactory biographies I have read. Silone is clearly a hard person to try to get a handle on and the author does not overreach in trying to tie up all the loose ends. Some will just remain loose as it is probably true that no one has ever passed from this earthly life completely understood by others. This book is well illustrated and has a good bibliography and helpful endnotes. It is set in a graceful typeface with well proportioned spacing and the use of sub headings and short gaps to help structure the narrative which might otherwise grow too dense.
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