Luca Rastello: Piove all’insù (The Rain’s Falling Up)
Our hero/narrator is Pietro Miasco, whom we first meet as a young lad in Turin, though it seems that he is telling the story from the current period (i.e. early 2000s). We learn that, in the present time, his partner has just lost her job and he is fairly bitter about it but he soon goes back to the past and tells her the story of his youth.
We start with his meeting, when still in the Wolf Cubs, the two boys who will remain his friends for life. They are Goffredo who is known as Dino, and Ruben. Ruben looks like the pig in a cartoon so he is nicknamed Pig. Pig’s father, Donedilio, was a Catholic Communist journalist while Pietro’s father was in the army and was seconded to the carabinieri. These political differences will be key to the book. Early on the two fathers meet and the differences come out. They discuss the Red Brigades who are starting to make an appearance in Italy at this time and carrying out terror attacks. Donedilio is critical of them not so much for their attacks on the system but because, he says those guys were sabotaging the workers’ struggles. He said the unions were mad as hell.
However, the book is not told in chronological order and we drift further back, even getting a glimpse of what happened to his parents during the war. Only later do we learn that, because of his father’s military career, the family had to move frequently, so Pietro got to live in various parts of Italy, before ending up in Turin. While Pietro will later disagree with his father on politics, early in his life he was fascinated to meet various of his colleagues who had more colourful careers than his father, such as the Ecuadorian officer who explained how to catch a watchman unawares in the middle of the jungle or how an infantry division can cross a river infested with piranhas.
However he grows up. In many ways they are like other boys of that era in Western Europe. They like football (Juventus), pop music (Dylan, initially and, later, Zappa and the Grateful Dead), cinema (Spaghetti Westerns) and, of course, girls. Pietro inevitably lusts after a few but from a distance. Tricky things, these females, he comments. Of course, eventually he is successful, despite his effeminate appearance and has a complicated love life.
They do summer jobs (I don’t want to work—I want money). They misbehave (shoplifting, slashing the tyres of luxury cars). But soon their misbehaviour develops into political action. They start spray painting slogans on walls. They go to demos (his mother does not approve). (She’s brought me up without any means, and now she can only get entangled. Nothing worse than getting entangled with a teenager, especially when you’re still so young: all you’ll get is frustration and grief). He argues with his father (your murderer friends his father says).
More and more we learn about the complex and violent political situation of that era. The Christian Democrats had held onto power for a long time and were deemed by the opposition to be totally corrupt. At the same time, there were groups on the extremes of both sides of the political spectrum, with Fascists represented by the MSI and, on the left, the Red Brigades and the Communists. We learn a lot about what went on and, looking from the outside, it looks almost like a war zone. We also learn of a massive conspiracy in the armed forces (including Pietro’s father and uncle) to essentially take over the country, with, of course, the aid of the United States.
There are continuous running battles between the police and the various groups and we get full details of the various barbaric acts of the police, including cold-blooded murder on many occasions. We learn the police are actively trying to deny rights to the left, when Pietro finds documents left by his father after the latter’s death, which outline the various illegal acts the authorities planned. There are also huge demonstrations with major battles between the police and the demonstrators (right and left) as well as the murders and other acts committed by the Fascists and the Red Brigades.
As well as the straightforward battles between the police, right and left, there are other issues. Turin is home to Fiat and we learn how badly Fiat treated its workers and about the key players at Fiat and the dirty deeds they committed, all of which fed into the other issues. There are other issues such as the story of Giorgio Coda, a psychiatrist who systematically tortured many patients and got away with it or, rather, got away with it officially though he was punished by vigilantes, as the system had protected him.
Only towards the end of the book do we hear of the kidnapping and murder of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro and the consequences of his murder.
While this situation is key to the book there are other things going. He delves into science fiction, even channelling Robert Sheckley. We also follow his love life and the story of his parents. Drugs, feminism and illegal acts galore are all part of the very rich picture Rastello gives us of Italy of that era.
I would imagine that, even if you were alive at that time and not Italian or closely involved in what was going on in Italy you would be surprised at the extent of almost open warfare between the various factions. A planned coup d’état, brutal violence by all sides, a corrupt government, major terrorist acts by left, right and the police and ordinary citizens caught up in it all, willingly and unwillingly. Rastello gives a first-class portrait from the point of view of one partisan participant.
First published in 2006 by Bollati Boringhieri
First English translation in 2022 by Seagull
Translated by Cristina Viti