The first full English-language biography of the celebrated Italian novelist (born Secondino Tranquilli), a forceful spokesman for the peasantry whose posthumous reputation has suffered from charges of fascist collaboration.
Pugliese (Modern European History/Hofstra Univ.) addresses a more general readership here than in the thoroughly academic Carlo Roselli: Socialist Heretic and Antifascist Exile (1999), and the results are generally illuminating. After some hand-wringing about the nature and difficulties of the biographer’s art, the author presents a fairly traditional text about Silone (1900–78), examining the writer’s home in deeply rural Italy, family, education, crises, loves, travels, publications—Faulkner, Bertrand Russell and other luminaries admired such novels as Bread and Wine (1937)—honors, controversies, death and its aftermath. Some principal members of his family died in a horrible earthquake in 1915, and for most of the rest of his life he relied on his own resources and character. He did not have much formal education but was a ferocious reader with an adhesive intelligence. An advocate for the cafoni (a harsh word for peasants that he often employed), Silone initially allied himself with the Italian Communist Party, but eventually abandoned organizations of all kinds, including the Catholic church. He was frequently hounded by police forces and imprisoned. Because of his writing skills, he was soon enlisted to write for and edit various left-wing publications; he founded Tempo Presente, one of his life’s true loves, in 1956. He had to live away from Italy at times, especially during the reign of the fascists, whom he attacked in his fiction and journalism. His first half-dozen novels were first published in Zurich, where he lived in the 1930s and early ’40s. He had two serious involvements with women, one of whom Pugliese interviewed before her death, but does not appear to have had much interest in sex. The biographer, who devotes many pages to the disturbing charge that Silone acted as an informant for the fascist police in the ’20s, cannot provide a definitive answer, but advances mitigating theories.
Rigorously argued, often passionate and wise.