The Moon and The Bonfire by Cesare Pavese

 

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The Moon and The Bonfire by Cesare Pavese

Italian fiction

Original title – La Luna e i Falò

Translator – Louise Sinclair

Source – personnel copy

I purchased this book, after reading Not to read. I was going to wait for the Pavese novella that Penguin is bringing out soon. But after seeing Zambra talk about going to Piedmont area of Italy to try and find the world Pavese had described in his books. I felt that as Zambra had connected so much to his work Pavese must be a writer I should try so when I found a bargain set of four books from Peter Owen who had published his book in English before I couldn’t resist. Pavese spent time in prison and most of his writing came in the last few years of his life and his books mainly set in the Piedmont area. He also translated a lot of books into Italian from English.

Thus it was that for a long time I thought this village where I had not been born was the whole world. Now that I have really seen the world and know that it is made up of a whole lot of little villages, I am not sure that I was far wrong when i was a boy. You wander over land and sea just as the lads who were young with me used to go to the festas in the village round about and dance and drink and fight and bring home flags and barked knuckles together.

Eel returning to his village a changed man but reviewing the village he left many years ago.

This book was written in 1949 and is set in that time. It is a first-person Narrative of a man who left Italy twenty-five years before just as The Fascist had taken control of Italy in the early 1920’s. The Narrator is never named over than his nickname Anguilla. Which means Eel. Now returning home after the war. We see a man trying to piece together the present of a war-torn Italy post-war with the Italy of his youth. So over the chapters, we see a man reconnecting with a slightly elder childhood friend Nuto. The man starts to reconnect the present and his past. From the place like his godfather house, whom has new owners but even they remind him of his past as their son is a similar age to the man when he spent time at the house. We see how over friends where lost in the years he was away from the village he grew up in. He was a foundling child so he never felt part of the place but on return starts to feel part of the place he left to make his fortune.  Nuto is a great friend but he struggles to understand why his friend views the world the way he does. Then there is the child with crippled legs the sister he knew Irene, Silvia, and Santa three noted beauties of their age. They each had troubles in the years he was away two of them died one to illness the over to the Blackshirts. This is also about the village he grew up in.

We seemed to be fated. I often wondered why there was no one left now but Nuto and me, just the two of us, out of so many people once alive. Once upon a time I’d had a longing within me ( one morning in a bar in San Diego I nearly went mad with it) to come out on the main road, to push open the iron gate between the pine and the lime trees at the corner, to hear the voices and the laughter and the hens and say, “Here I am, I’ve come back, ” watching their bewildered faces – the farm hands, the woman and the dog, the old man and the grey and the brown eyes of the girls would have recognised me from the terrace

Such lament in these words a feeling of ghosts in the last line and those dead beauties.

A man returns to his past is a classic theme and this is Pavese describing how the horrors of war had scared his homeland of Piedmont and the fact that the narrator has been away twenty years he can see the contrasting time has caused. He described the village and place so well in the book. I got why Zambra wants to discover Pavese world when he visited Italy. This is a book about losing one’s childhood and discovering what happened to it when the Eel left. This is also a look at the rural life of Italy. It is a book of worlds now gone I was reminded of books like A month in the country in English that feel of a nostalgic world but also the damage that wars can cause. Pavese translated many writers from English pre-war like James Joyce and John Dos Passos. He must have used these when describing the early parts of the book set in the US before the Eel comes home.

May 2018
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