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History (1974)

by Elsa Morante

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,1752411,701 (4.18)83
A soldier wandering through the streets of Rome resolves, rather drunkenly, that he must find himself a woman. It is Ida Mancuso's fate, at precisely that moment, to turn the corner of the street, laden with shopping. The soldier sees easy prey - but Ida confronts her nightmare vision. The year is 1941, the soldier is German and she is half-Jewish. Elsa Morante's brave novel evokes the real terrors, fears and hopes of a mother living through one of the most horrifying events in recent times. In marked contrast to the posturing fascists on the political stage, this is the history of the Second World War as the ordinary people of Italy experienced it.… (more)

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» See also 83 mentions

English (10)  Italian (7)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  German (1)  Hebrew (1)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (24)
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I think this is one of the best novels I've read about the second world war and its aftermath - the life of a child in Rome in the 1940s, conceived in violence, his (secretly Jewish) mother and brother doing their best to survive in awful circumstances. While others spout political certainties (whether of ideology or geopolitical alliance), the harsh reality for those whose lives are wrecked by conflict remains the same. Each chapter, covering a year, is prefaced by a headline summary of the major political developments of that year as a sort of political canvas against which the domestic drama plays out. It is not fast-paced, but I found it intensely absorbing, and it deserves to be much better known in the English-speaking world. ( )
  nwhyte | Sep 12, 2015 |
...ed è rimasta quella vecchia ma meno eterna cicatrice - quando la guardo allo specchio e nelle fotografie di me bambino - penso che sia una bella cosa - una lieta meraviglia - che ancora non c'abbiano toccato - nè guerra nè miseria (Sequoia, Offlaga disco pax)
Poi, a 2/3, ho capito che per ora puo' bastare. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Started but did not grab.
  tsgood | May 30, 2014 |
This book is called “La Storia” in Italian. It’s called “History: A novel” in English. Its layout is interesting. Its events take place from about 1940 (the first chapter is called “194….” and left ambiguous) to 1952. Each chapter is one of these years. And each chapter starts out with a bulletin-like news roundup of great events of that year. Then, the chapter settles into the story of a family of poor Roman Italians, and the people whose lives theirs intersect with. Their life is grim. They are already poor and marginal people, and things keep going from bad to worse. We meet the widow Ida (Iduzza) who is raped by a German soldier at the beginning, her son Nino (Ninarieddu and various other complicated nicknames), and her other son, progeny of the rape, Useppe (really, Giuseppe). We follow their lives as they gain and lose canine family members, lose their apartment to a bombing, live with various other characters in a very grim concrete structure during the war, meet Jewish escapee and Partisan fighter Carlo Vivaldi/David Segre, and then struggle to pick up their lives again after the war, an impossible task. The narrator tells everyone’s story as if it had equal importance with the “great events” that mark the beginning of each chapter. Morante meant to show that those anonymous masses were just as important in the great scheme of things as the powerful leaders of the time. It was a heartbreaking story.

Right after I finished reading this book, the Occupy Wall Street movement started, and one of the early and continuing products of that movement, the “We are the 99%” website, gripped my attention. It is made up of anonymous people, members of the masses, who write down their trials and tribulations on a poster and hold it up for the camera. Sometimes these are short and to the point. Sometimes they are long and involved. Most of them will make you sad, a few will make you roll your eyes, but none will leave you completely unmoved. I have been reading it off and on for a few weeks (it is hard to read because I get teared up and have to stop), and yesterday, it struck me that it’s a modern, free form, “Storia” only it’s written by the characters rather than an author. Is it a good thing that the characters are taking control of their voices and becoming authors? I think it is exciting, even though it is often sad. After all, our lives are not more heartbreaking than the lives of those people who struggled to survive in Italy during World War II, but life still cries out against injustices and oppressions, and the release of such a voice is bound to have some impact.

I wish Morante were still alive – I would love to see her reaction to current events. I wonder if regular people’s struggles will ever make it into a news bulletin such as those that opened her chapters. And I answer myself, it has in the past, if they organized (like they are doing now) and refused to have their voices silenced. I am glad I am alive now and seeing these things happening around me. I am also glad to have read this book, which was a best seller in Italy immediately following the war, but which I had never heard of until my LT book group decided to read it. I am grateful to urania and the Salon for introducing me to Elsa Morante and the beautiful, heartbreaking History: A Novel. ( )
19 vote anna_in_pdx | Nov 8, 2011 |
This should be called Social History: A Novel with a Heart. It should be called A Novel With a Heart that Wriggles to Live and Struggle and Snarl and Nip like a Pup at the Bitch's Teat, Squirms with a Perfect Limerence that Will be Written in Heartbrimming Prose by Signora Morante So that It Will Never Be Forgotten, Tosses Its Curls and Pastes a Sneer on Its Pomegranate Lips and Puffs Out the Chest of Its Slight but Sturdy Frame and Says It's a Joke a Joke All a Joke, Shakes Itself Apart with a Fear that Means Crumbling Bones, Infected Blood, Grands Mals, a Fire Consuming All and All the Kids and Animals Run from the Fire, and Shivers and Resolves into a Joy that Can't be Beat, that a Little Boy Named Useppe Brought into the World with him by a Miraculous Transubstantiation Just by Being Born, that All the Kids and Animals Fly Away to America or Heaven, that We'll Always Be Together. That sounds like a book that would leave the reader abject and trembling a time or two, but come ever back in the spirit of that always-togethermanship and lead you home.

But this book is also subtitled: And that trembling, that shivering, that shaking, tossing, squirming, wriggling, all the way back into the safety of the womb, that's just your sickness, your epilepsy, your failure to thrive, no grands mals, grand narratives, capital letters here, except one, because the Fear is back, consuming all the kids and animals, and we'll never be together, because everyone's dead. I can't remember ever feeling so wrung out and wasted by a book with so much human spirit and happiness-against-the-odds in it. The fact that the Italian Left condemned this book on grounds of ideological purity is so repulsive and, as capital-H history, the gross kind, currently in 2011 slouches toward the future with a wave of "we (always together) are the 99%" protests that purport to be about a kinder and fairer society, it's worth saying a little prayer that we all err, when we err, on the side of love. And that somehow this time love doesn't leave us victims of the 1% that start wars and co-opt ideas into ideologies and hoard all the safety and love they can for themselves. When they cause the mass society to exist in a perpetual state of threat and insecurity, they are damaging and destroying humans. Late capitalism is a war of the few on the many--trite and true--and opposing economic equality is a war crime. ( )
6 vote MeditationesMartini | Oct 14, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elsa Moranteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Benítez, EstherTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moreno, JuanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Munck, IngalisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rivière, WilliamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Velde, Frédérique van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weaver, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Er is in geen enkele mensentaal een woord
dat de proefdieren kan troosten
die het waarom van hun dood niet kennen.
Een overlevende van Hirosjima

Trans.: There is no word in the human language capable
of consoling the guinea pigs who do not know
the reason of their death.

A survivor of Hiroshima
... dat Gij deze dingen voor wijzen en verstandigen verborgen hebt,
doch aan kinderkens geopenbaard...
... want zo is het een welbehagen geweest voor U.
Lucas 10:21

Trans.:...thou hast these things from the wise and prudent,
and hast revealed them unto babes...
for so it seemed good in thy sight.

Luke 10:21
Por el analfabeto a quien escribo

Trans.: To the illiterate for whom I write
First words
Op een dag in januari van het jaar 1941 slenterde een Duitse soldaat, die op doorreis was en van een vrije middag profiteerde, in zijn eentje door de wijk San Lorenzo in Rome.
The latest scientific discoveries concerning the structure of matter mark the beginning of the atomic century.
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A La Storia, romanzo pubblicato direttamente in edizione economica nel 1974 e ambientato a Roma durante e dopo l'ultima guerra (1941-47), Elsa Morante ha consegnato la massima esperienza della sua vita. È la sua opera piú letta e, come tutti i libri importanti, anche quella che piú ha fatto discutere. Cesare Garboli, nell'introduzione a questa edizione tascabile, traccia un bilancio critico sul romanzo a piú di vent'anni dalla prima pubblicazione. Completano il volume la cronologia della vita e delle opere, la bibliografia generale e quella specifica relativa al dibattito su La Storia.
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