Vasco Pratolini: Cronache di poveri amanti (A Tale of Poor Lovers)
This work is generally considered a masterpiece of neo-realism. Pratolini tells the tale of the inhabitants of the Via Corno, a street near the centre of Florence but cut off from the touristy part of the city. It is also the street where Pratolini himself grew up. It is set in the late 1920s when fascism was on the rise in Italy and that is a key theme of this book.
But this is not a political book. Yes, we do see the Fascists and their dirty deeds – from forcing people to join the Fascist party to brutal murder – and Pratolini is highly critical of them but he is more concerned with the people of the street, the good, the bad and the ugly. The hero is the blacksmith, Corrado, who is eventually killed by the Fascists but there is a large cast of characters, all with their problems – financial, sexual (prostitution is alive and well on the Via Corno) and social and it is Pratolini’s exploration of these issues in a thoroughly sympathetic manner that makes this book so worthwhile. Indeed, for many of these people, despite the harm of Fascism, their real enemy is poverty and the lack of decent employment opportunities.
The street has many characters but the one person who rarely sets foot on it is the Signora, an ugly, rich, old lady (though we see a portrait of her in her younger days when she was more attractive). She has a lot of control over the inhabitants, using them (she is particularly fond of the young women) by her financial power. The symbolism, with the rise of Fascism, is clear. But Fascism and wicked old ladies help to make this is a very fine novel of late twenties proletarian Florence.
First published 1947 by Vallecchi
First English translation 1949 by Hamish Hamilton