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Elio Vittorini: Conversazione in Sicilia (Conversation in Sicily; In Sicily; Tears and Wine)

As with Il garafano rosso (The Red Carnation), Vittorini had difficulty publishing this book. It was first published in a magazine and then in 1941 in book form but was soon withdrawn by the Fascists and was not made available to most Italians till after the war. It is written as a journey of exploration rather than in a more conventional novel format. Silvestro Ferrauto is a typographer who has long since left his home in Sicily and is now living and working in Milan. He receives a letter from his father who tells him that he has left his mother and is living with another woman. Silvestro decides to immediately leave for Sicily to see his mother.

The first part describes his long train journey to Sicily. On the way he meets various people, including Fascist police and the Great Lombard who tells him that the hour has come to assume a new conscience and aspire to newer and higher duties. In the second part, he arrives in Sicily and meets his mother, Concezione. The pair reminisce about the past. In the third part, he accompanies his mother on her daily rounds giving injections to the sick and it is here where he realises the misery in this part of the world. The fourth part, the key part of the book, is where he meets a variety of working-class characters and they talk about the offences of the world, in other words the sufferings of mankind, and how people like them must help save mankind from these offences. Silvestro is now drunk and arrives in a cemetery where he talks to his brother who, unknown to him, has died in battle. The book ends with his mother washing the feet of a man who may or may not be his father.

Both the religious and Marxist symbolism are very strong here and, of course, very intentional. Silvestro’s three day journey of discovery both shows up the problems that, in Vittorini’s view, were facing Italy and the difficulty in opposing them. But, though obviously a political work – the Fascist censors eventually realised this – Vittorini’s story is both mythic and religious (in the broadest sense) and remains, along with Il garafano rosso (The Red Carnation), a profoundly important work of Italian literature.

Publishing history

First published 1941 by Parenti (under the title Nome e lacrime
First published in English in 1948 by Drummond & David
Translated by Alane Salierno Mason (Conversation in Sicily); Wilfrid David (Tears and Wine)