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Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone
Stanislao G. Pugliese
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
448 pp., $35.00
Il Caso Silone
The Italian writer Ignazio Silone (1900-1978) is best known, at least in the English-speaking world, as the author of the Abruzzo Trilogy: Fontamara (1930), Bread and Wine (1936), and The Seed Beneath the Snow (1941). The trilogy takes its name from its setting: the mountainous, earthquake-prone region east of Rome where Silone was born and raised among the despised cafoni (as the landless peasants were known). It was in Bread and Wine, his most enduring and probably his best novel, that Silone introduced his most famous character: Pietro Spina, the exiled leader of the anti-fascist underground, who, disguised as a priest, returns to his native mountains. The entire trilogy, translated into English by Eric Mosbacher and revised by Silone's widow Darina, is now available in a single volume published by Steerforth Italia (2000).
The novels that make up the Abruzzo Trilogy were all written during Silone's long exile in Switzerland (1929-1944), the result of his opposition to the Fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. For that reason, they were not published in Italy until the end of World War II, by which time Silone had garnered international fame as an anti-fascist writer, along with Malraux, Camus, and Orwell. In fact, Silone had joined the Italian Communist Party when it was founded in 1921, becoming a close associate of Palmiro Togliatti, the Party's long-time Secretary. It was only after his break with the Communists in 1931—memorably related in his contribution to The God That Failed (1949), the influential Cold War collection of "confessions" by ex-communist writers—that Silone embarked upon his second career as a novelist.
What distinguished Silone from the other anti-fascist and ex-communist writers of his generation was the medieval intensity of his spiritual longing, his reverence for the saints of his native region, and his conviction of the need to recover Christian values. One critic who recognized Silone's spiritual restlessness early on was ...