Something a little bit older landed on my bookshelf the other day; "Bread and Wine" by Ignazio Silone, published in 1936 by the Gutenberg Book Guild or "Vino e pane" published a year later in Italy. The book was republished in 1955 under the title "Wine and Bread," and apparently, in terms of content, it has been modified over the years but remains in print.
Bread and Wine is an anti-fascist and anti-Stalinist novel written by Ignazio Silone. It was finished while the author was in exile from Benito Mussolini's Italy. It was first published in 1936 in a German language edition in Switzerland as Brot und Wein, and in an English translation in London later the same year. An Italian version, Pane e vino, did not appear until 1937.
After the war, Silone completely revised the text, publishing a significantly different version in Italy (in 1955), reversing the title: Vino e pane (‘Wine and Bread’). This updated version is also available in English translation.
I had learned about the author in a documentation that I watched some time ago and decided to try some of his work up. "Bread and Wine" is my first foray into that exploration.
Born in the small village of Abruzzo and died in Geneva in 1978, Ignazio Silone, whose name was Secondini Tranquilli wrote about Italy's poverty in the 1930s and the socialists' struggle against the Fascists, but actually also contains general wisdom for life. He then fled abroad, revised his books, etc.
The book follows the exploits of Pietro Spina, a young revolutionary who is being sought by authorities. To avoid capture disguises himself as an old priest known as Don Paolo Spada.
The story tells a lot about Silone's life, who lost his parents and his siblings early in on and was forced to make due without much schooling; his transition to a revolutionary and journalists were, for a time, under the scrutiny of police spies.
The book is beautifully written and for a work to survive it must be lest it slip into the space in history that is reserved for the forgotten.
Since "Wine and Bread" is still available, you can find some reviews that both provide sound information about the work giving you a good idea of what you are in store for and others. Some of them note downsides, such as "The book is adventure novel and political thriller in one" or "Wine and bread – both appear in the book while the figures consumes them regularly, the title does not suggest the actual content. It is also increasingly political and exciting towards the end."
While I find it good that they read the book it feels like they have missed the point. Neither of the opinions are capable of painting the work in a light that would be relevant to the themes and messages the book covers.
I will avoid going into much detail about the book; Instead it is more important to understand the time in which it was written, the struggles people faced, as well as the understanding that it is truly not a work of fiction but a document of the time.
For instance, the lives of the landless peasants are described very forcefully. Mussolini is all present and is feasible for one to see that people actually had no choice but to join the fascists, because they were mislead through the news, exploited and used to further Mussolini's agenda to receive minimal sustenance and support. For a job as a civil servant, teacher, community doctor one had to sell his soul and the poor students got money for their food rations, but only if they agree.
The book explores the populist rhetoric undermined the fabric of society and fake news was employed in much the same manner as today.
It is a time that we cannot return to.