ITALY: The Fatal Gift by William Murray

ITALY: The Fatal Gift

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Memoirs and reportage from Murray's life-long, off-and-on stays in Italy--first as a late 1940s student (the more autobiographical pieces), later as a journalist-visitor in the Sixties and Seventies (""Letters from Italy"" in The New Yorker). The early selections, though rather repetitive, have a modest, rough sense of personal progress: young Bill's disillusionments in Rome--as a would-be tenor; as an admirer of rousing new radical friends; as a half-Italian, part-US-raised youth caught between two cultures. And along with these darker, ironic episodes, there are the more predictable, anecdotal glimpses of eccentric characters and rowdy bohemian doings--from a mild ""orgy"" to a full-scale war against Turkish neighbors in an apartment building. (The one attempt at plainer reportage in this early section--an evocation of the ""Voices"" from Rome's markets--is dense with detail but overextended and effortful.) In the Sixties, however, Murray returns to Italy as a relatively detached observer, and the 15 pieces in this second half are a chronological grab-bag--with Italy's deterioration (the neglect of traditional beauty, the rise of terrorism) as an erratic recurring motif. Murray recoils a bit from the Americanization that comes with the economic boom of the early '60s. He profiles the inefficiency of the Civil Service, the ignorance of those charged with protecting Rome's monuments. There are visits to rich, Swiss-like Milan, to poor Naples (""the hot, living bodies. . . are its greatest, and perhaps its only, remaining major resource""), to the Chianti region, to Rome's historic Jewish neighborhoods. And, increasingly through the Seventies, there are comments on student unrest, on violence Italian-style (an astute early report on the Moro case). A two-tone collection, then, without overall shape or point (see Paul Hofmann's Rome, p. 114, for a more satisfyingly rounded view of today's Rome); but Murray writes with grace and economy--more so in later years--and Italy-lovers will find this elegant (if often depressing) browsing.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Dodd, Mead