“To die for your ideas is the most radical of fairy tales”: thus the moral of this evocative portrait by the son and heir of Italian publisher and political activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.
Feltrinelli père died in 1972 near Milan while apparently trying to blow up a power pylon, an act of disruption in the near-trademark style of his newfound friends in the Red Brigades. He had lived a fairy-tale life, indeed: the heir to a lumber fortune won in the waning days of the Habsburg Empire, Feltrinelli enjoyed every privilege, was pampered by doting relatives—including a mother who was fond of shooting deer from the rear window of her Rolls-Royce—and was groomed to bring even greater fortune to his family. Whereas Giangiacomo’s father was friendly with the fascist regime (if sometimes critical of “Mussolini and his gang of toadies”), Giangiacomo joined the Communist resistance during WWII and emerged in the postwar era as one of Italy’s most capable political organizers. With the blessing of the Communist Party, he founded the publishing imprint that today bears his name, issuing a list of paperbacks that formed a syllabus for would-be radicals; the first titles he published, in 1955, were Bertrand Russell’s The Scourge of the Swastika and Jawaharlal Nehru’s Autobiography. Soon thereafter he acquired rights to Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, which would likely never have seen print without Feltrinelli’s efforts; Carlo Feltrinelli’s account of the tangled history of the great novel’s publication is among the best there is and will be of great interest to students of dissident literature. The son writes with affection for his father, though he is at a loss to understand how Feltrinelli evolved from more or less orthodox Communist into terrorist, even while refusing to give up his yachts and nice cars and other perquisites of wealth.
An altogether fine account of a life spent doing good—and, ultimately, evil.