In Bitter Spring (Reviews, Apr. 6), Pugliese writes about the life of Ignazio Silone, writer and founder of the Italian Communist Party.
How similar is the recent earthquake in Abruzzo, Italy, to the one that Silone survived as a boy?
Unfortunately, it seems that history is repeating itself in that part of the world. I think there were too many parallels, including that there were some advance warnings of this. And now I'm seeing in the Italian newspapers that there's concern about organized crime taking advantage of the reconstruction process, which is something Silone wrote about in 1915.
How did surviving that earthquake shape Silone's life?
He was 14 years old; his father had died a few years earlier, and five of his six siblings had died, so the only people alive in his immediate family were his mother and his younger brother. The earthquake destroyed their home. His mother died and he ended up having to dig her out himself; the brother survived and was eventually rescued five days later. It was the middle of winter, a particularly difficult winter with heavy snows, and the wolves on the mountains in Abruzzo, in conditions like this, would come down into the towns because they smelled the sheep. With the earthquake, you could add the smell of bodies decomposing under the rubble. So the image of the earthquake combined with the symbolism of the wolves would come to haunt him for the rest of his life. Every single novel he wrote, and almost every short story, has some mention of the earthquake and the wolves.
How big was Silone's international reputation at his peak?
He was a widely read antifascist writer of the 1930s and '40s, and that continued up to the 1960s. His novels were translated into dozens of languages. The American government printed unauthorized editions and distributed them to soldiers in the Second World War [before the U.S. advanced on Italy].
Why do you think his works are not nearly as accessible today, at least not in English?
His kind of writing appealed to a certain time and place, and toward the end of his life, he began to realize that the culture had passed him by, so he turned to a critique of consumerism and commercialization. I think it's interesting that his writing is now starting to appear in Arabic—there was a writer in Baghdad a few years ago who won a prize for translating one of Silone's novels. It tells you something that his writing now finds resonance in the Middle East or in India.