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THE CHILL by Romano Bilenchi


by Romano Bilenchi and translated by Ann Goldstein

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-933372-90-7
Publisher: Europa Editions

First English-language publication of a 1984 tale of knowledge gained and innocence lost in 1920s Tuscany, by rarely translated Viareggio Prize winner Bilenchi (1909–89).

A metaphorical chill begins to encroach on the 16-year-old narrator’s awareness with the death of his grandfather, a benevolent figure writ large on a young mind. Not long before, the old man had taken his grandson to an archaeological site where the discovery of a purse of Roman coins left a lasting impression of both history and impermanence. “Awareness of the transient is what gives value to man’s life,” declared grandfather, and this theme tints the narrator’s ongoing reflections on his emotionally turbulent experiences. The grandfather’s obsession with the Longobards who once invaded their region of Italy, the ruins that punctuate the landscape, seen from climbs up Monte Luca with an eccentric math teacher, the ancient fortresses and threshing floors, all contribute to the sense of a volcanic past seething beneath the idyllic surface. The narrator fears that his father will react in anger to rumors bandied about his mother, fears retribution for ratting out a friend for despicable treatment of girls and, when he himself is accused of wanting to touch the bosom of a man’s wife, fears that this minor transgression will diminish him in the eyes of his mother and the community. The darkness of the characters stands in stark contrast to the pastoral landscape: Adolescents hatch plots beneath the surface of a sunflower field, young ladies are sent to live with distant relatives for their dalliances with married men, or go to prison for botched abortions. When his friend spills another’s blood, the narrator is both wounded and infected with the impulse to violence. In this narrative of a transformation, we are left wondering whether the chill of emotional exile is externally imposed, or a product of the narrator’s own volition.

Episodic and often surreal, with dark, complicated psychological undercurrents.