M: Son of the Century

Antonio Scurati, trans. from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel. Harper, $29.99 (784p) ISBN 978-0-06-295611-8

The expansive first installment of Scurati’s Strega Prize–winning tetralogy, his English-language debut, covers the rise of Benito Mussolini in the aftermath of WWI. In 1919, a rally of the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento signals fascism’s rise. With the war ended, Italy churns in turmoil as the troops, described by Scurati’s omniscient narrator as “forty thousand loose cannons,” return home. (A dramatis personae catalogues over 70 principal characters.) Sweeping statements by Mussolini (“The age of mass politics has begun”) combine with a range of primary sources, including newspapers and protesters’ graffiti. Scurati captures Italy’s past by blurring fiction’s boundary with history, such as with chapters narrated by Mussolini himself (“I am the misfit par excellence,” he avows). The historical sweep takes in fascist, socialist, and liberal ideologies competing for Italy’s future, and the author captivates with portrayals of various characters’ poignant struggles, such as the wealthy and obstinate real-life socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti, who was abducted and murdered by Fascists on June 10, 1924. The magisterial prose, adeptly translated by Appel, takes a bold look into the abyss, as readers will come to know “the Duce of fascism” and to understand “the Mussolini cyclone.” Scurati’s ambivalent portrait of a powerful fascist is sure to spark much debate. (Apr.)