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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

A novel that makes you think: Break and Wine

The guy disguised as a priest Don Paolo leaves the remote mountain village and heads into town where he privately meets with a  former leftist lawyer who fills him in on the fate that has befallen other anti-fascists and explains why he now has compromised his ideals in order to get along. Don Paolo decides to return to his ideals and to fight fascism and the government - he reflects, wisely, that many priests had thought they were serving a higher ideal but in fact had unwittingly become tools of the fascists (this set in Italy, in the 1930s - Ignazio Silone's novel Bread and Wine) and of the capitalists, sending the message that the peasants were born to their fate and that they should cooperate with the government (many of the leftists initially had thought Mussolini shared their values and backed him - in opposition to the monarchy, I think, only to be disillusioned, at best - Mussolini in this novel is always referred to as Etcetera Etcetera). Don Paolo sheds his soutane and heads for Rome as himself, Pietro Spina, a wanted radical - he hooks up with a few of the remaining and surviving leftists in Rome, and learns of the horrible fate of those who were arrested and imprisoned. Some terrific scenes - his visit to the loft where the girlfriend of a former comrade takes in work as a seamstress, a kind of funny sequence in which he's sheltered by a guy who runs a scam: works with a partner who threatens beautiful women tourists and he jumps in to "rescue" the woman, fighting with his accomplice. He offers to escort the woman back to her hotel and en route "realizes" he's lost his wallet in the scuffle; the grateful women give him money, and often more. Part of the greatness of this novel is the way in which the characters are never two-dimensional - they always seem to be wrestling with ideas and ideals, figuring out how to get by but also how to be true to themselves. Silone doesn't romanticize the peasants and their rural villages, nor are the members of the resistance all heroic (see example above). A rare novel that keeps your interest and consistently makes you think - about the characters, their world, and their ideals.

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