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Ignazio Silone: Pane e vino (Bread and Wine)

Like his other earlier works, this novel first appeared in German translation. It was first called Pane e vino (Bread and Wine) but in later editions was called Vino e pane (Wine and Bread). Many people consider this his masterpiece, including such luminaries as Camus. It tells the story of Pietro Spina. He had been arrested for anti-Fascist activities and had managed to escape to France. He has now secretly returned to Italy but he is in poor health. He is looked after by a friend but then the friend decides it would be best for him to hide away in a remote village, disguised as a priest. He sets off for Pietrasecca, having changed his name to Paulo Spada. While obviously unwilling to act as a priest he is called upon to perform blessings and one woman to whom he has granted absolution and who miraculously survived considers him a saint. Spina/Spada, however, is a political man and tries to convince the inhabitants of Pietrasecca to have a political outlook but they are not interested.

He then returns to Rome where he gets involved in political debate with the party functionaries as, of course, Silone himself did. Much of this part of the novel is Spina’s struggle with whether he should stay in the party or leave it. He returns to the country and resumes his identity as Spada but, like, Silone, has to flee into exile. Silone has made common cause between socialism and religion, which he sees as two sides of the same coin. Both Spina and the real priest, Benedetto, fight for what they believe to be right and, of course, fight against Fascism, each in his own way. Both also fight against what they see as the hypocrisy on their own side, Spina in particular, as did Silone, fighting against a standard party line. Neverthlesss, though this book is much admired and is certainly a fine story, it was not to me as convincing as Fontamara, which focused on one small village which, in many respects, represented the world.

Publishing history

First published in German 1936 by Oprecht
First published in Italian 1937 by Nuove Edizioni di Capolago
First English translation 1936 by Methuen