Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2005

This fine recent study of the representation of peasantry in Italian literature within a carefully demarcated historical period marks the culmination of Brian Moloney's decades-long engagement with writers such as Ignazio Silone, Cesare Pavese and Carlo Levi. The study is intended for a wider readership than the narrow field of Italian studies and Moloney provides excellent translations throughout the work as well as contextualizing these novels within the broader framework of European and international narrative.

From the very outset Moloney is at pains to express some of the paradoxes and contradictions inherent in any examination of novels which strive for some form of historical veracity in the representation of their characters and the rural culture they inhabit. Dealing with issues related to recent paradigms of knowledge, the author sets out to contextualize the time of writing and the influences (ideological, literary) on the authors under review. He questions recent mobilizations within an Italian context of Said's theories of Orientalism and problematizes typical North-South stereotypes and facile dualities in this domain. Alongside the usual North versus South discourses informing Fascist and post-Fascist Italy, Moloney is keen to stress the urban versus rural dichotomies associated with these novels.

The title of the study is borrowed from a 1974 article by David Craig entitled NOVELS OF PEASANT CRISIS, in which that author examined the worsening conditions of peasants as reflected in a number of novels from the 1930s (Grassic Gibbon's SUNSET SONG, Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH and Ignazio Silone's FONTAMARA). Thus the crisis informing these works forms the basis of Moloney's initial period of investigation: the 1930s and novels written under the Fascist regime. The following chronological period to be examined is 1945-1950, and how post-war narrative dealt with the legacy of Fascism and the failures of the democratic Italian republic to effect real change. There is some discussion also of later narrative in the 1950s, but the primary focus of the work is on the twenty-year period of the title. As such, these texts are especially interesting when grouped together as novels of peasant crisis in that they constitute lasting testimonies to a world long vanished after the eradication and destruction of Italy's rich peasant culture during the so-called economic miracle of the late 50s and early 60s and the resultant exodus of emigrants that followed. The subtitle, 'Bonfires in the night', carries with it the metaphorical force of both destruction and renewal; it alludes to both Francesco Jovine's LE TERRE DEL SACRAMENTO and Pavese's LA LUNA E I FALÒ, both published in 1950; the fragility of the bonfire in both is a symbol too for cautious optimism and dark forces which threaten civilisation's constructs.

In chapters 2 and 3 the author examines the issues of Fascist rural policy and the problem of the south. This is followed by a chapter which deals with a selection of authors who wrote positively of rural culture under Fascism, including Delfino Cinelli (CASTIGLION CHE DIO SOL SA, 1928; revised ed. 1931), Lucio d'Ambra (IL GUSCIO E IL MONDO, 1931), and Francesco Sapori (SOTTO IL SOLE, 1935). These literary images are in reality Fascist images of rural contentment. This is then followed by an extended examination of Silone's FONTAMARA (chapters 5 to 8). For Moloney, Silone's novel is one of the few examples of what Gramsci called national-popular literature, and the analysis which follows is both cogently argued and replete with fresh insights. Chapter 8 ("Ignazio Silone and Comrade Jesus") is a particular highlight in which he argues that Silone's rejection of Communism is grounded on a utopian projection; despite the seemingly disastrous finales in his works "he insists on the need to reach out towards Utopia, for it is in the striving that our humanity and the imitation of Christ are most fully realized" (p. 140).

The following three chapters are dedicated to the figure of Carlo Levi and the impact of southern culture on this northern intellectual. Moloney mobilizes a Jungian reading of CRISTO SI È FERMATO A EBOLI and argues convincingly that Jungian psychology offers a conceptual framework which supports Levi's totalizing view of humanity and society. Moloney notes, moreover, the sense of erasure which marks Levi's later writings when revisiting the south in the 1950s. Next, he examines the figure of Francesco Jovine and delves further into the relationship between history and moments of peasant crisis. Jovine's SIGNORA AVA provides the author with the requisite keys to interrogate the Italian Risorgimento as an unresolved defining event of peasant crisis. Jovine's posthumous LE TERRE DEL SACRAMENTO allows the author to examine the Gramscian notion of the organic intellectual and the issue of the kind of leader required to convince peasants of the necessity of collective action. It also provides the historical backdrop for a passage from Fascism to the 1940s and the struggle for land reform. The final chapter is reserved for LA LUNA E I FALÒ, the completion of what Pavese called his "ciclo storico del suo tempo" ("the historical cycle of your time"). Moloney contests the refusal of many critics to view this work as a history of his own time. In the novel, Pavese succeeds, Moloney tells us, "in finding symbols which express both the ontological and the societal", these symbols "enable him to comment incisively on Italian society in general and Piedmontese rural society and the decline of share-cropping in particular" (p. 226).

In the conclusion to this trenchant study Moloney states that the novelists of peasant crisis, that is, the novelists examined here, "refigure perspectives by writing about peasant societies in positive terms and suggesting that they can detect in them the beginnings of a new civilization" (p. 233). The relevance of these works is further attenuated by the author when he suggests that in the global context novels of peasant crises continue to be written and read: Brazil, Costa Rica, Southern Africa have all experienced recent peasant traumas. The Italian examples before them are a lasting document not only of exceptional models of narrative form and aesthetic potentialities, but also a testament to a vanished millennial culture.

[Daragh O'Connell]