Literature and War Readalong August 26 2011: La Storia – History by Elsa Morante

The readalong book for August, La Storia or History,  is one of the most important books of Italian literature. It is also quite a substantial book, depending on the edition, it is over 800 pages long which is why I decided to post the introduction already today to give anyone who would like to read along the opportunity to do so.

I’m already on page 150 and fascinated by her writing that reminds me of Latin American literature in its exuberance. Before the individual chapters there are detailed accounts of the history of Italy. La Storia is pretty much the story of a woman, the schoolteacher Ida Ramundo, and the history of a country. Given all the atrocities Germany committed we tend to forget that there were allies like Italy. The history of Italy during WWII is  story of megalomania, bad choices and bad planning and borders quite often on the ridiculous. But there are also stories of resistance and heroism. This, however, is not the topic of this novel.

I did a bit of research and found out that a lot of this novel is based on Morante’s own life. Her mother was half Jewish and a teacher, like Morante herself.

Elsa Morante was married for quite a long time to Alberto Moravia, author of  La Noia (Boredom) and many other outstanding books.

History isn’t Morante’s only novel, she is also the writer of Aracoeli and L’isola di Arturo (Arturo’s Island).

La Storia has been made into a mini-series starring Claudia Cardinale as Ida Ramundo.

28 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong August 26 2011: La Storia – History by Elsa Morante

  1. I read “History” many years ago, I’m looking forward to rediscover it in your reviews. I have also read “Arturo’s Island”, which I liked a lot!
    Good luck with your reading!

  2. I will have to put this on my tbr list. Unfortunately I won’t be able to read it this month, but I do want to read this. World War II was my concentration during my masters program. And I studied not just the war, but the history of everyday life and this book sounds perfect. I’m fascinated not just about the events but how everyday people survived. I’m excited to hear your review.

    • It is still one of the most read Italian novels in Italy and as far I see she did an outstanding job at combining history and story. It’s a huge book, not one to squeeze in, that’s for sure, it needs time.
      There are not all that many accounts on Italy during WWII. Or movies.

        • Maybe they think it is better to stay quiet and let Germany take all the blame. This is pretty much how it goes in Europe. France pretends they have won and try to keep quiet about the shame of Vichy – although, thank God, that saved Paris – the Brits are the good and victorious ones but tend to keep quiet about their island state playing a major role – the Russians were the future baddies – everyone else was a victim, apart from Switzerland which made a lot of money.
          Reading La Storia shows me once more how deluded Mussolini was. He wanted nothing less than rebuild the Roman Empire.

  3. It really is sad when you think of all the nation’s who participated or looked away during this time. It wasn’t just European nations who did. If I remember correctly, the pope knew about the camps in 1941 but really didn’t do anything to stop what was going on. Not sure if he could have done much, but no effort was made really. Then again, I wasn’t there so it is too hard for me to judge people who are trying to survive.

    One of my papers during grad school was on Mussolini’s rebuilding effforts in Rome to make it look like it did during the days of Augustus, the height of the Roman Empire. He made a lot of comparisons to Augustus. And he was completely obvious to how duped he was by the whole war and Hitler.

    • The Catholic Church got a lot of blame for their role during WWII. It is very difficult to say now whether they helped as well as they could or whether they just closed their eyes. There were quite a lot of priest sent to the camps as well.
      I saw a number once of how many nations felt they had to join and grab a piece as well. There were a lot of people with delusion of grandeur at that time in charge of whole nations. The Japanese Emperor wasn’t much better than the other lot.
      I think the Duce wasn’t a bright man. Not sure if Hitler was either, deranged, yes and maybe cunning.
      At the end of the day we are all lucky they were such megalomaniacs because, who knows, it could have worked. The German’s had the technology and the discipline, if they had not decided to invade Russia…

  4. This sounds amazing, but since I’m already committed to two readalongs this month, I will watch from the sidelines. I’ve just picked up my books from college to write about Duras. I hope it’s better late than never!

    • It really is an amazing book and since you have started your own Italian reading project, I think you might want to give her a try some day. I think Arturo’s Island is a great story as well.
      Better late than never, definitely. the readalong isn’t closed as such I just felt I had to make people aware of the 800 pages of the next one. I’m still interested in your review.

  5. Russia has two great generals. General Winter and General Mud (when all the ice and snow melts). Invading Russia has been a mistake throughout history. Hitler thought he was a great military leader but he either didn’t study military history or just ignored it.

    To this day I can’t understand why Japan allied with him. Didn’t they read his speeches or books? Didn’t they know that Hitler was using them?

    • Yes, Napoléon got a taste of those Generals and I agree, Hitler could have known but that’s the thing with being too full of yourself. History only repeats itself beacuse humans don’t learn much.
      I think Japan just got swiped away by it, trying to do their own thing sort of.

  6. Started reading the Morante today, Caroline, and was relieved to see that it reads pretty quickly since I’m juggling two other 600-page books this month and playing catch-up with a Proust once again. Interested in seeing how the Latin American-like “exuberance” you mention plays out in the novel, of course…exciting stuff!

    • I can’t really put my finger on it yet but once the little boy and the dog are introduced it reads more and more like a Latin American novel. It’s a very specific type of story telling. I think it is a fascinating book.
      I like it and agree, it does read quickly. Two other 600 pages books…

  7. I need to get cracking on this and so read a bit this afternoon–I didn’t read the Duras as I had intended to be reading this instead, but here I am moving slowly anyway! Actually it seems to be a slow start sort of book, but it is interesting. I don’t think much about Italy’s WWII past –for some strange reason, but the more crime fiction I read from there the more I see it is still fresh in their memory–or so it seems anyway–maybe my perception is off.

    • I thought the first 60 pages were slow to read but then it picks up considerably. And it is ineteresting. I also understand now why she chose Ida and not a more introspective woman. I think she is more exemplary that way, stands more for the masses that were affected. maybe I’m wrong, it is just what I thought. In any case Morante is no Bassani.

    • Yes, I guess you will have to start soon if you want to join. It’s quite long but after a few initial pages it rads very quickly. There was a film of Arturo’s Island as well but I haven’t seen it.

  8. I have seen this book in my frequent book store…but 800pages is a lot. I am not sure I can handle that, especially August is dedicated to my all time fav Manga.

    I look forward to your review. I have heard the book mentioned so many times but never really know what is it about.

    • I’m surprised it found its way to Indonesia. It’s a great book for many reasons. Something you would also like, is the fact that she has animal charcaters in the book that are described just like humans, with all their character traits, there is a dog and later a cat. It is wonderful. In this book no character is flat.

    • There really are not that many and certainly none like this. It was, I think together with Eco’s Name of the Rose and Lampedusa’s The Leopard the most read novel in Italy ever. I enjoy it a lot.

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