Bread and Wine

Rating: 0

Ignazio Silone

This is the story of an Italian communist in 1938 who has been exiled from his country and a series of other countries through Europe. At the start of the book, he has just snuck back in in order to continue working with his party, as the country is about to go to war against Ethiopia. The man, Pietro Spina, makes it back to Rome, but is very sick and friends disguise him as a priest and send him to a small town in the country where he won't be recognized in order to recover. Pietro spends nine months in poor, rural Italy among the peasants that he is fighting for, seeing the way that they live and their fights, and comparing those to the stances that the established Communist party in Rome is taking. Pietro also goes through a spiritual time of questioning, seeing the way that the peasants treat him as a priest.

The interesting twist to this book is that Pietro is an idealist who started out as a student wanting to be a saint and actually did become a priest, but he then became disillusioned with the church and turned to communism as the best way to fight fascism and help the common person. His contacts in Rome no longer agree with him about what they should and should not support (they support the war since the spoils of war will bring more resources into the country, whereas he feels that spending the peasants out to fight the government's war is against their basic tenants). The local people around him are just trying to survive, and support the war since it helps get them out of debt. So he finds that nobody shares his opinions, even though he becomes more and more set on them.

Silone does an effective job of showing Pietro's struggle to reconcile what he knows for himself to be the right answers with the messy realities of the world. He is unable to give up his principles, but he also desperately wants to help the people around him. Usually, he ends up doing this by agreeing, after much resistance, to act as the priest that the peasants want him to be. However, he is a priest who isn't controlled by the government, and because of that is able to tell people what they need to hear. There are some very humorous scenes of Pietro trying to get people to leave him alone and stop asking him to confess them - particularly when he hears that his landlady is going to build a confessional in his bedroom.

Overall, I thought that this was a very well written and effective book. Somehow, though, it didn't stick with me that much when I wasn't in the process of reading it. I think the problem was my own unfamiliarity with Italian culture and the political context of the book. There were references that I know I didn't understand, and I couldn't really visualize the situation. I also didn't understand the meaning of the ending; it was clearly highly symbolic, but I didn't understand what the symbolism was. It also became clear, through some other symbolism, that the story was meant to be about the re-birth of a man - Pietro's rebirth. But I wasn't clear by the end of the book on whether Pietro had really changed or not, which wouldn't have bothered me if the symbolism didn't imply that he did. So I'm afraid that I have to rate this book a '0', though a very strong and hesitant '0'.


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