Context: Read this in the tea shop of Reed’s in Downham Market with the in-law’s on the way to Susan’s funeral.
This is Captain Corelli’s Mandolin meets Walden if you can imagine that. For those who’ve not read either or one of those novels I’d better explain. In fact, thinking about it, I may well be the only person who has ever read both. I’ll satisfy myself with that status until someone comments otherwise 😉
Well, for those who haven’t read either of the aforementioned, simply click the links and read the reviews. For those who have, this is a memoir Levi wrote about a time in the mid 1930s. It describes a year in exile during the Abyssinian War when he was sent to a remote village just above the arch of the boot of Italy.
It relates to the Mandolin because of the war setting and the captivity. There’s the same olive trees and landscapes (minus the beaches mind), the same enemy on the outskirts but softened by intimate contact with one or two individuals.
It relates to Walden because of the surprising discovery of the soul of the nation the writer is part of.
Unlike Thoreau, Levi had no choice. But in the same way, both men discovered something much deeper than they anticipated through their removal from the humdrum everyday lives they had once lived. And both realised they didn’t want to return.
But also, like Walden, the book is a bit dry. It’s worth a read for the cameo pieces here and there and it is very evocative of the era. It gave me a new perspective on Italy, at least an Italy that once was. And it continued to demonstrate to me that although cultures come and go, human nature is still a mixed bag.
Many, many years have gone by, years of war and of what men call History.
Already the train was carrying me far away, through the checkerboard fields of Romagna, toward the vineyards of Piedmont and the mysterious future of exile of war and death, which I could then but barely perceive, like an uncertain cloud in the boundless sky.
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