Italian neo-realism

Following the Second World War Italian cinema took off with the neo-realist movement, most notably with Roberto Rossellini's Rome, open city, and Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle thieves. What I hadn't realised until reading Carlo Levi's Christ stopped at Eboli was that the neo-realist movement arose from the literary world. Eboli is a stark, beautifully written account of Levi's time spent as an exile, in the 1930s, in Lucania (Basilicata), the impoverished instep of Italy. In spite of its title this is not a religious book. The title refers to a belief among the peasantry of Basilicata that there was no religion or pity south of Eboli, they were abandoned both by man, by the Italian government and by God. Fortitude, magic, and an imperturbable patience took the place of Church, State, and humanity.

Levi , an artist, writer, and qualified (although not practising) doctor was exiled to Basilicata as a result of his anti-Fascist views on the eve of the war in Abyssinia. In Basilicata he found great kindness from many of the peasantry, but also brutal grinding poverty in a stark, unforgiving landscape. Forced to practice medicine in a land with no doctors or health service, Levi re-evaluates the Italy that he thought he knew. This is a stunning read, and a worthy companion to many of the other great left-wing books of the 1930s - most notably George Orwell's The road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia.

This is a book to soak into, to absorb the sights and sounds and smells. It is an Italy that can seem as remote as Roman times, and yet is only 75 years ago. A must-read.


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