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The Moro Affair (New York Review Books…

The Moro Affair (New York Review Books Classics)

by Leonardo Sciascia

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In The Moro Affair, Sciascia is in analytical mode, describing the kidnapping and murder of Italian politician Aldo Moro through the letters, articles and statements of Moro and others. The Mystery of Majorana gives Sciascia’s take on another disappearance, that of Ettore Majorana, a well-regarded physicist who was never found after supposedly travelling from Palermo to Naples. I don’t agree with all of his conclusions in the two cases – occasionally it seemed like he made large leaps based on the available evidence. In The Moro Affair, it really would have helped to be more familiar with the kidnapping of Moro as well as the political situation at the time. However, both pieces were interesting. The Moro analysis still provides some political points relevant today and Majorana is a lively portrait of an intelligent man in a difficult time.

Aldo Moro was the president of the dominant political party at the time, the Christian Democrats, but he was a man amenable to compromise and had brokered an agreement with the Communists for the formation of a new government. On March 16, 1978, he was attacked while on the way to open the government and his bodyguards and chauffeur were killed. The perpetrators were a leftwing terrorist group called the Red Brigades and they issued a number of communiqués during the two months that they held Moro. The police investigation was ineffectual and Moro’s party refused to negotiate for his release. He was found murdered in the trunk of a car in early May. Sciascia’s analyses were written several months after so he expected that his readers would be familiar with the events – saturated with them in fact.

I found the book slow going at first even though the sections are very short. Instead of the terse style found in his novels and short stories, some of the analysis is more rhetorical and abstract. The author looks at Moro’s speeches, his letters from his prison, declarations issued from both the Red Brigades and Christian Democrats and, at the end, the material associated with the police investigation. It was a bit hard to keep all the politicians straight – Sciascia attributes a significance to the fact that Moro had addressed some letters to one man rather than another, for example, but it didn’t mean that much to someone unfamiliar with all the players. Sciascia dismisses most of the Red Brigades communications as bravado and implies that their claimed trial of Moro was worthless. He is critical of the Christian Democrats and their refusal to exchange Moro and spends a lot of time discussing Moro’s justification (he had previously said that the government should act to save lives even against the principle of negotiation with terrorists) as well as the unproductive actions of the politicians. His analyses of Moro’s state of mind are interesting. I’m not sure how much significance I’d give to all the codes that Sciascia finds in Moro’s words. Examples of politicians stalling and blindly sticking to their talking points are still relevant today.

The life and career of Ettore Majorana is related in several short chapters – he switched from engineering to physics, had a complicated relationship with Fermi, befriended Heisenberg and met Bohr, was in Germany to see the rise of the Nazis, returned home and stayed secluded until taking a university chair position. While travelling from Naples to Palermo, Majorana sent off several odd letters suggesting that he was thinking of suicide. He had a ticket back to Palermo but never made it. Investigators thought it was most likely suicide, but his family and some friends believed he was still alive. Sciascia has some fun describing the bureaucracy involved and the doubts of the police as well as the ‘madness’ that afflicts the family of anyone who has gone missing. I found the life of Majorana involving and read this one straight through. I did think that Sciascia makes some leaps of logic here. He provides some good points in defending Majorana against the charge of being a Nazi-lover and the evidence does suggest that it wasn’t suicide (withdrawing a large amount of money before leaving, for example), but I found Sciascia’s suggested motivation and final fate of Majorana unconvincing. ( )
1 vote DieFledermaus | Jan 16, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Leonardo Sciasciaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rabinovitch, SachaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robb, PeterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Please note that this edition, published by New York Review Books, includes both The Moro Affair AND The Mystery of Majorana. It should NOT be combined with editions that include only one or the other title.
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