The Mystery of Ignazio Silone

La cultura a Torino tra le due guerre (Culture in Turin Between the Two Wars)

by Angelo D'Orsi
Milan: Einaudi, 377 pp., å?19.63

Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922–1945

by Ruth Ben-Ghiat
University of California Press, 317 pp., $45.00

L'informatore: Silone, i comunisti e la Polizia (The Informer: Silone, the Communists, and the Police)

by Dario Biocca and Mauro Canali
Milan: Luni Editrice, 275 pp., å?15.49

Processo a Silone: La disavventura di un povero cristiano(Silone on Trial: The Misadventure of a Poor Christian)

by Giuseppe Tamburrano, with Gianna Granati and Alfonso Isinelli
Manduria: Piero Lacaita,161 pp., å?10.33
Ignazio Silone
Ignazio Silone; drawing by David Levine


For a country that has produced saints the way other countries produce cars, Italy seems to have an ambiguous attitude toward sainthood. A few years ago, when the Church drastically reduced the number of saints in the calendar, most Italians accepted the exclusions peacefully; the only serious protests were heard in Naples, where San Gennaro was defended not so much for religious reasons as out of local, superstitious affection. But not all saints are religious, and Italy has also been taking a look at some objects of secular worship. The buzz word in Italian intellectual and political circles over the past few years has been revisionismo, which could be translated roughly as “reconsidering,” but would perhaps be more accurately rendered by phrases like “taking them down a peg” or, simply, “revealing feet of clay.”

And here the process of desanctification is anything but smooth. The most bitter polemics in Italy arose from a recent volume by Angelo D’Orsi entitled La cultura a Torino tra le due guerre (Culture in Turin Between the Two Wars). Written after decades of research, D’Orsi’s study is, for the most part, a painstaking examination of the worlds of the universities, publishing, fine arts, and literature during the period that coincided with the Fascist regime. Turin in those years was the home of such now well-known writers as Leone and Natalia Ginzburg, Carlo Levi, Primo Levi, Cesare Pavese, Massimo Mila, and later (though he was not a native) Italo Calvino. It was also the seat of the left-wing publishing firm of Giulio Einaudi, and a center for leaders of anti-Fascist thought, like the magistrate and Resistance leader Alessandro Galante Garrone. In the postwar years the city had a high reputation as a model of anti-Fascist behavior.

D’Orsi provides a factual review of intellectual activities during the war period. His work is often boring, with its countless lists and catalogs. But he sometimes departs from his historian’s sober objectivity and hands down moral judgments, which have provoked angry political debate. He is particularly skeptical about the veneration of several Turin icons for their anti-Fascism. Even his teacher, the political philosopher Norberto Bobbio, now in his nineties, receives some criticism, as when D’Orsi refers to a well-known admiring letter he wrote to Mussolini when he was a young scholar (revealed by an Italian weekly several years ago). The late Massimo Mila, a distinguished musicologist, is criticized for a petition written, after his imprisonment, to the dictator asking for his “paternal pardon.” D’Orsi is also critical of Cesare Pavese, who, after returning from confino—exile to a remote village—under family pressure joined the Fascist Party in order to obtain a job.

D’Orsi does not question the anti-Fascism of Turin’s dissident leaders, but says that they weren’t anti-Fascist enough. Perhaps the passage in the book that has aroused the most outrage is a statement to the effect that, despite some notable exceptions,…

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