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October 11, 2014
Mussolini’s Jewess

My FaultMargherita Sarfatti (1880-1961) was the daughter of a wealthy Jewish couple from Venice who became Benito Mussolini’s lover sometime around 1912. She went on to support Mussolini financially as he created the Fascist movement, and she also played an important cultural role during Mussolini’s dictatorship. Sarfatti later wrote about her time with Mussolini in a memoir entitled My Fault that has now appeared in English for the first time. My review of the book, for the November/December issue of The American Interest magazine, may be found here.

August 13, 2014
Resistance Values

The Sergeant in the SnowThe Italian writer Mario Rigoni Stern (1921-2008) wrote a much-acclaimed memoir about his experiences during the second world war entitled The Sergeant in the Snow (1953). In it, he relives his role as a sergeant commanding a platoon in Mussolini’s army on the river Don in the Soviet Union during the disastrous winter campaign of 1942-43 and describes how he led survivors from the campaign on foot from the Ukraine back to Italy. Rigoni Stern wrote the book as a tribute to his fellow soldiers. Like his good friend Primo Levi, he experienced “survivor’s guilt” and felt that putting his experiences down in print was the only way to save himself from going mad. Rigoni Stern never expected to make a living as a writer, but, as things turned out, he ended up publishing a dozen novels and collections of short stories. During his career, he also gave many interviews in which he discussed his literary work, his love of nature, and his wartime experiences. The Einaudi publishing house in Turin published a well-chosen collection of his interviews, which I reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement here. For those interested in reading a longer, unabridged version of my article, please click here.

March 8, 2014
A Tribute to Alfonso Berardinelli: Italy’s Most Important Living Literary Critic

Lo scrittore invisibileAlfonso Berardinelli (Rome, 1943) is Italy’s most important — and courageous — literary critic. He is also a friend. In the forty years of activity that have elapsed since his first book, a monograph on the critic Franco Fortini, appeared in 1973, Berardinelli has written dozens of outstanding books on Twentieth Century literature, poetry and literary criticism on such topics as literary/political engagement, the development of the contemporary novel, and the function of poetry. He’s a refined and staggeringly learned polemicist whose cultural criticism is the best, in my opinion, that Italy, or any country for that matter, has to offer. In the wake of his having turned seventy years old in 2013, a festschrift containing interviews and essays was published in his honor in early 2014. I was honored to be a part of the large contingent of Italian and foreign writers invited to celebrate Berardinelli’s achievements over the past four decades. You will find my small contribution (in Italian only) here.

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