AN ABSURD VICE: A Biography of Cesare Pavese by Davide LaJolo

AN ABSURD VICE: A Biography of Cesare Pavese

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LaJolo's 1960 biography of the great Italian writer has been edited down by the translators here--who also provide their own (for the most part quite toneless) renditions of the excerpted Pavese prose and poetry. How much, then, has been lost in translation? It's hard to tell. But, in any case, what appears here is less a full scholarly biography than a friend's reminiscence--with a reprinting of letters, some of them wonderfully revealing (to women, for instance), some of them almost devoid of interest (those relating to Pavese's editorial work). And, though LaJolo's approach is slack and anecdotal (and colored by a Communist Party bias which is never made sufficiently explicit), the basic stuff of Pavese's unhappy, intense, erotic, fecund life is certainly presented. Here, then, is his childhood in the Piedmont, his adolescent experiences on the Po, his disastrous obsession with (and rejection by) the never-identified ""hoarse-voiced woman."" Here, too, are the literary and political milestones: the great poetry of Hard Labor (the translators call it Work Wearies instead, offering pitifully translated excerpts); the involvement with American literature; the novels; the intellectual life in Turin; the job in publishing; Pavese's imprisonment by the Fascists at Brancaleone Calabro--and his Communist Party affiliation. But while LaJolo quite properly emphasizes Pavese's great depressions and his lifelong preparation for suicide (the ""absurd vice"" of the title), only some of the diary entries and letter excerpts fascinate; and though Pavese admirers will want to sample the material here, as a biography this is too spotty and unfocused to more than suggest Pavese's extraordinariness--especially with his work itself so ill-presented. (See William Arrowsmith's 1979 Hard Labor edition for strong, contrasting translations.)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0811208508
Publisher: New Directions