Elsa Morante: La storia (History)
The English title of this novel is History as it should be but the Italian is ambiguous as storia means both history and story. This was by far Morante’s most successful novel in terms of sales, though it got a fair amount of flak from the critics. Some thought it too melodramatic; others that it was too unoriginal or too simplistic. That Morante is on the side of the downtrodden poor is clear and she makes no apology for it.
The novel is mainly set during World War II and the immediate aftermath and starts with the rape of Ida (Iduzza) Raimundo, an Italian schoolteacher whose mother was Jewish. Her rapist is a German soldier. She gives birth to a boy, Useppe, who does not develop normally but is able to communicate with animals. In particular, his dog tells him, more or less, that the weak shall inherit the Earth. He is, of course, the symbol of the innocence of children. Another character who acts as a symbol is Davide Segre, a Jewish student, who becomes a partisan and die of an overdose of heroin. Jews – and Davide in particular – are symbolic of the victims of war and politics. Useppe dies of an epileptic attack but not before he has seen deaths and deportations and cruelty. His brother, Nino, is killed by the police. His own death causes his mother to go insane and Bella, the talking (to him) dog, is killed guarding his body. In short, Morante gives us a clear view of the horrors of war and cruelty of the world, particularly to the innocent. Whether this makes for great literature is for the reader to decide.
First published 1974 by Einaudi
First English translation 1977 by Knopf