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This is the definitive account of one God that failed. It describes a man's loss of faith during the 1930s in the international Communist movement. Wanted as a terrorist, he slips back into southern Italy where he hides as a Catholic priest recovering from tuberculosis. Fascism is rampant and war with Ethiopia has given national purpose to Italians suffering from economic stagnation. His priestly duties involve offering forgiveness to Catholics saddled with a primitive and uncompromising faith. His contacts in the Comintern underground demand his obedience to party dogma from Moscow that he now sees as meaningless. While Silone offers no grand solution to the dilemna that loss of faith presents, the book presents an uncompromising and wonderfully written portrait of the strength and weakness of humanity in the Godless world of the 20th Century.
Great book. Every time I opened it, I felt like I was in Italy for a moment. Beautiful imagery and multi-dimensional characters. The plot had depth and left me wondering how conflicts could possibly be resolved.
The bread and wine book was an excellent view of Italy and the problems of autocratic government. We read it for our Book Club and I added to it a succulent Italian lunch menu Which I called "Cafoni Pranzo". It was a success and all the members enjoyed the food and the discussion on the book.
This 1935 novel, this anti-totalitarian novelist's most famous, tries to balance an investigation of socialism with an examination of the Christian and communal beliefs held by the "cafoni" or humble laborers of Silone's native Abruzzo. Pietro Spina, a Communist activist wanted by the Fascists, hides as the priest Don Paolo Spada in a remote village. But this is no didactic rant. Silone, himself having been exiled for his own agitation, and before and after this period a formidable opponent to Fascism, knows from his upbringing in this locale how people talk, think, and resign themselves to conditions.
Against this proclivity, the protagonist rallies a few. He claims he cannot work as a priest, as he has been sent to recuperate, far from his native diocese. But the people, hearing of his unexpected eloquence and humanistic ripostes to the powers that be, flock to him. Once he has heard the "confession" as the confidences of Luigi Murica, whose story of being compromised by the regime reverberates (even more now given the 2000s controversy over Silone's own collaboration or lack), others rush to have their secrets forgiven, and out of such predicaments, Silone dramatizes the radical's own difficult choices, even if his main character tends to be gloomy. Silone knew well the price paid for subversion and disguise, after all.
As well as a novel of ideas, this is one of the everyday struggle against injustice. On pg. 201 of the combined "Abruzzo trilogy" 2000 edition, the protagonist defends truth and justice against expediency, and as the priest, he articulates the kind of Christian Socialism the later author admired. On pg. 214, he movingly acclaims the life lived not provisionally, as if waiting for it to happen, as opposed to living in the present. A familiar piece of advice now, but as of the writing of this, perhaps not so much so, and one worth remembering. On pg. 397 he tells his listeners that the spell of the dictatorship can be broken by one man, but the rest of the novel will make you wonder about this.
A really interesting work. I agree with the author of the introduction in that the work is a bit uneven, but a good read and worth the price of admission (I wish I could score it a 4.5). The plot is pretty simple--an ailing communist underground leader from Abruzzi returns from exile to Italy during the fascist regime of Mussolini in the 1930's. While in hiding, he reluctantly takes the garb of a priest and seeks to convalesce in a small town in his home region. Despite the simplistic plot, there is a number of layers of meaning in the text--Silone uses this as a vehicle to discuss everything from freedom in a dictatorship to the role of the Church in bad times. His is critical of dogmatic communism--in fact, the main character is at his least convincing when spouting the party line and never gets anyone to agree with him when doing so. It's only when he talks in broader terms of humanity--and here Silone heavily relies on a Christian allegory--that he gains supporters. These moments are when the book really shines. Silone challenges us to ask what would happen to Jesus if he returned to our world. The ending is a bit odd, but is allegorical--some might find it off-putting.