A first novel of compelling intensity focusses a microscopic eye on local Italian problems, with the town of Aceto, which is slowly sliding down the mountain, as a symbolic manifestation of the quality of the people. Catalyst of the numerous caste of characters is Renato, disillusioned, sick of life, sick of himself, but with a warm, angry love for his fellow-men. He shelters the son of a man just shot, houses the boy's two sisters, takes in a madwoman and her husband, gives refuge to a girl dying of tuberculosis, and is finally instrumental in bringing in Verni, leader of the men in the hills. Dying Dreina represents his love for death while Antonietta, carrying the child of Pane, head of Communist activity, provides the healthy love of life,- the pull of the two makes more complex Renato's preoccupation with the grim affairs of the town. Antonietta's brother dies while looking for Pane, Verni's surrender is the signal for an attack on the town by the rest of his Communists in the hills, and in the ensuing period of rape, arson, murder, Renato at last escapes with Antonietta and some others. There is a power here that forces the despair, the hunger, the vile, the frustration down one's throat, there is a mystical tenderness that offsets the harsher tones, and the whole, with some of the searing scenes, makes for memorable reading. En garde, PLs!