Tony's Reviews > History

History by Elsa Morante
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Jan 13, 12

bookshelves: italian, wwii
Read from December 26, 2011 to January 13, 2012

Davide (one of his many names) is an anarchist turned addict. He is unlikeable to this reader. But in his growing delusion, he tells stories:

Once upon a time there was a cabbage...

Once upon a time there was a broken pot...

Once upon a time there was a drum...

Once upon a time there was a chicken's shit...

Once upon a time there was an SS...


It's history, no?

In this book, every chapter is a year; and every year begins with headlines. Historians write history this way, via headlines. What happened on this day, and this day and this day? But the historians write what happened to the generals, and the presidents, and themselves.

This is History: A Novel; so the headlines are just a tease. This is a book about the people who are affected by what the generals and presidents decide. Not pincher movements of battalions, not posturing at a carefully choreographed state table, but daily sustenance, lire sewn into a hem, a rape.

Once upon a time there was a chicken's shit...

Ida, an Italian widow, is raped by a drunken Nazi soldier; and a child is born. Useppe has his father's blue eyes. He is both precocious and stunted. He is innocence and wonder. And he is sick.

Like a Greek tragedy, birds appear from time to time to intone: "It's a joke, it's a joke, it's a joke..." But it doesn't feel like a joke.

This book has an autobiographical purchase because the author had a fraction of Jewish blood and had to flee with her husband, Alberto Moravia, during the Second World War. The widow in this book had a fraction of Jewish blood. It is her curse, and her potential salvation.

There is a lot to mull here about the assessment of racial "drops" of blood to manufacture social equality. (But my filter is firmly on tonight).
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