A quiet, leisurely, and moving account of Jewish life in Rome during WW II. In 1938, the Italian government instituted a number of exclusionary racial laws. The Jews of Rome, who had by then been thoroughly integrated within nearly every sphere of public life, were suddenly forced into isolation and threatened with the prospect of exile or death. At the Villa Celimontana, the segregated school where Della Seta spent the war years, most of the students found themselves enclosed within a wholly Jewish setting for the first time in their lives and had to find new ways of understanding themselves and their nation. Many of them began to consult rabbis and attend temple services; others took up Zionism. Some fought the fascists as partisans; at least one joined the Fascist party ``to reform it from within.'' This is a memoir rather than a history, and the author writes with that lack of focus and richness of incident that most young lives contain: the intellectual pretensions and ambitions of his classmates, the anxieties brought by news of invasion or deportations, the simple traumas of adolescence, the strange beauty of Rome—all are portrayed with the same deliberation and seriousness. The final chapter, a rather sketchy account of Della Seta's 1960 meeting with Martin Buber in Jerusalem, attempts to add a bit of perspective by showing what the author became (an accomplished journalist) and how the Jewish sense that he gained of himself during the war grew in the quiet years that followed. Rambling and a bit diffuse, but very strong all the same. Della Seta's formal and rather distant narration (he writes in the third person) gives a novelistic quality to the story, profound in its pathos and depth.
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