In the 1950s, Dolci appeared as one of the first of the new Gandhian radical activists: a North Italian engineer, he settled...



In the 1950s, Dolci appeared as one of the first of the new Gandhian radical activists: a North Italian engineer, he settled in a rural Sicilian slum and proceeded to agitate and write--largely, by taking down the words of the people. The present volume of interviews draws from those early works (published here as Report from Palermo, 1959; Outlaws, 1961; Waste, 1964) and later ones, unpublished in America; and while it lacks the sense of engagement, of contact with an ongoing movement to raise the people's consciousness and alter their lives, it is an absorbing political chiaroscuro in its own right. For Dolci himself, western Sicily resembles ""many of the earth's orphans and vagabonds. Beneath the tattered rags. . . she's lovely."" Given a chance, she might ""glow with intelligence, dignity, life."" Without it, ""she might go to seed, in pain and bitterness."" Both outlooks are present here; but pain predominates as the fractured voices of the oppressed contrast with the glib assurance of their oppressors and a vicious circle defeats attempts at change. Says one Sicilian lawyer: ""To change things we'd have to take the responsibility to argue out our problems. . . . We'd have to learn how to work together. But honestly, we can't stand each other."" Emphasis on duty to oneself and one's family alone is not, however, the only thing holding back the poor--like Rosario, who ekes out a living gathering wild greens; or Santo, the trade unionist and tenant farmer. Above them are allied the forces of the church, represented by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini (""The individual should always assume that established powers are wiser than he""); the Mafia, including boss Done Genco (""It doesn't matter who you are, ask me a favor, I do it. That's my nature""); and the politicians, such as fascist Peppe Volpe (""When I give speeches, I start off by saying I got my degree with a hoe. . . . That gets them on my side, hook, line, and sinker""). To combat this mix of corruption, cynicism, and distrust, Dolci relies on what he sees as the positive values of Sicilian society--the love of work, allegiance to the simple life, family responsibility, and personal dignity--to encourage others to join him in fasts, sit-downs, and ""strikes-in-reverse"" (his first action in the '50s--enlisting the unemployed to work on unauthorized public works to demonstrate the need for work). One would like, also, to have an updated report on those efforts; for the present, this will introduce to a new generation a writer who has never flinched from the complexities of poverty and wealth.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 1981

ISBN: 0394749383

Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981

Close Quickview