THE WORLD IS A PRISON by Guglielmo Petroni


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paper 0-8101-6051-X A jewel of a memoir. Born in 1911, Guglielmo Petroni was only eleven when fascism came to power in Italy. This work was written during the final days of WWII and published in the first issue of the Italian Communist Party’s literary journal Botteghe Oscure (yes, in Italy, the political parties have literary journals) in 1948. Since 1949 it is has been almost continuously in print, for reasons English readers will now be able to discover for themselves. A writer, journalist, and poet in Florence and Rome during the fascist dictatorship, Petroni paints a finely shaded psychological portrait of the conformity and oppression of those years. Most of the book, though, is devoted to the month he spent in various fascist and nazi prisons in Rome. After Italy’s armistice with the Allies on 8 September 1943, Petroni had joined the Resistance and was captured in May 1944. Italians have long been familiar with the places Petroni “visited,” such as the infamous Regina Coeli prison and the notorious Via Tasso offices of the SS where he, and many other partisans, were tortured and some eventually executed. Petroni too was scheduled for execution, but the Allied liberation of Rome on 4 June 1944 saved his life. Memory, nostalgia, and a burning desire for understanding come together in some compelling passages here. Petroni offers no apocalyptic solutions, neither political nor religious, neither Christian nor Marxist. His is a deceptively simple account, but one that is striking and profound. His readers will immediately recognize a writing style similar to Primo Levi’s: an avoidance of rhetoric and a refusal to accept the role of omniscient narrator: “Humans find a moral solution only by seeking . . . the universal truths bearing the marks of the tragedies that surround them.” In a postscript written fifteen years after the end of the war, Petroni compares the world to a prison “whose dimensions do not change the impossibility of overstepping the barriers of life.” And yet, in his obscure bitterness there is still a faint hope in human solidarity. A small masterpiece.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8101-6050-1
Page count: 139pp
Publisher: Northwestern Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999