Carne Viva Una saga italiana fra Otto e Novecento
By Nadia Verdile – Release date: May 26 2021
Book review by Monica Lucignano
Last May Pacini Fazzi Editori has published “Carne viva”, the first historical novel by writer and journalist Nadia Verdile whom origins are from Molise.
The work stems from the discovery of a trunk in an attic, in which Verdile discovers: the diary of her great-grandfather Umberto, the story of her birth, and the story of her love for Concetta. And as is customary, she begins to reconstruct the – sometimes bumpy – path of this young man born in a country that was trying to leave behind the horrors of banditry while the Savoy monarchy sharpened the gap between masters and servants, that is, between the rural and urban worlds.
A well-documented historical novel in line with the author’s style which, as happened for “Matilde Serao” (2017, Antonietta Rongone National Prize) and for “Regine” (2018, Mino De Blasio National Literary Prize), does not fail when it involves relentlessly digging through public archives or private libraries to find and assemble pieces of a puzzle that give the reader more than a family history diary. In fact, “Carne viva” describes in great detail the socio-economic scenario that leads to Umberto’s painful decision to emigrate, to go to Merica. The author does all this without being verbose, free from disseminating the narrative with didactic minutiae that risk boring the reader in the stubborn pursuit of the objective of informing him. Here she dominates the story of the daily routine, and through this through the stories they become History. There is Eleonora di Gravina promised at an early age to Baron Basilio, or there is Olindo Fiorda the master shoemaker who invented a system to create children’s shoes that do not force small feet into annoying seams, or there is also Rocco Ricci, a loser of Life who unleashes all discontent and tension on his family in the ways he deems most appropriate.
It is through them that Nadia Verdile underlines how unhappy and precarious was the condition of the women of that time, to whatever social class you belonged to. Marriages without love, exhausting work for the laborers forced to suffer the abuses – labor and sexual – of the boss , the boss’s son, the farmer.
Even for the teachers, who at the cost of enormous sacrifices had managed to free themselves from the burden of physical work, the payment was lower than that of men colleagues. In addition, although it may surprise those unfamiliar with the legislation in force at that time, it should be emphasized that the rural school teachers, by contract, earned less than the teachers who worked in the city. Those that the writer outlines are wonderful portraits of resigned yet indomitable mothers, intent on raising their children with or without marital help; sometimes forced to lower their heads for unspoken sins, deriving only from being women: the last of the last.
Through Umberto’s personal stories, the work underlines the importance of education for the less well-off classes, forced to suffer oppression and abuse out of ignorance. The peasants needed only to know how to read, write and calculate. But Umberto reads, buys the Avanti and gives tuition to Nicola, his wife’s nephew, to allow him to pass the third grade exam. And when he decides to leave for America, he buys a book to learn in detail the long procedures for purchasing tickets without intermediaries, for requesting a passport, for handling the formalities that all emigrants had to undergo once they landed at Ellis Island.
The reader leaves the Molise villages and arrives in Napoli. He travels on the steamer and, through Umberto’s eyes, the reader sees the dolphins and feels the weight of the saddlebags, sewn by Umberto’s wife, who remained in Italy waiting for him to prepare everything in the USA; crammed into that third class that has nothing of the amenity of De Gregori’s “Titanic” but is also immune – at least in the detailed and daily story that Umberto gives to Concetta – from the prosaic, lacerating cruelty that imbues Saviano’s monologue on the conditions of our emigrants during the crossing. Umberto dreams of starting to live again, without kings and without limits, because “Merica” for him is freedom: a kitchen, a bathroom in the house, a bed for each of his children but above all the possibility of having them studying. He dreams to invest in his work, starting as a worker in the ice factory and then becoming an entrepreneur, and finally renting a shop to produce shoes.
Umberto dreams and realizes all this at Rockland Lake (NY), a town that no longer exists since 1926, today a nature reserve and the seat of a historical company.
Rockland Lake has been the place of the American dream for many immigrants, not only Italians but also Poles, Germans, Slovenes who networked and grew up together, educating their children in the churches opened by monks in the smell of poetry. And it was thanks to this commitment, and thanks to the collaboration of friends and relatives from overseas, that the writer was able to recover a photo of her grandmother Coletta (born Nicoletta Mancini, first daughter of Umberto) together with her classmates. Another story in the story, however, will not enter Umberto’s diary, written during the long journey and which represents – if not the founding core of this novel – at least the most touching, true, moving part.
Those readers who have, in the bosom of their family, stories of emigration will not be long in recognizing in the story of Umberto, a part of his own story. The hardened face of his great-uncle Lysander or the melancholy smile of Aunt Anna or the thick group of grandmother Rosamaria will return to his mind. And so Umberto and Concetta become the emblem of the whole South (Molise, Campania, Sicily, Puglia), that is, of that area of Italy that ceases to be a portion of a national territory to rise to the “Southern question”. Right from that South, that still leaves today to obtain better living conditions and uses the trolley instead of the cardboard suitcase. A South that has degrees, masters, doctorates in his pocket and that keeps in its soul an ancient, philosophical and entrepreneurial culture, and not just food and wine that springs from an area rich in history and beauty.
Last but not least, the author has decided, as if to further underline the universal character of this family story, to leave the characters with their linguistic construct, their vocabulary, their grammar. In order to do this, she referred to the Molise vernacular set by De Rubertis and D ’Ugo and facilitated the flow of dialogues between the protagonists in the Molise area of the early 1920s. It is her tribute to the land to which she owes her origins, but also a necessary cultural recovery for a region that << still struggles to speak on the nation’s benches >>.
Never as in this work the consummate narrator Verdile disappeared, hiding herself and leaving absolute space for the interaction of the characters.
Here there is the whole woman Nadia, her story and even the realization of the dream that Umberto had in his heart for Coletta, that of becoming a teacher.
Coletta could not (and the reasons cannot be revealed because a spoiler alert would be triggered), Nadia did it.
Nadia Verdile was born in Naples. She lives in Caserta and is of Molise origins. She is a writer and journalist, she collaborates with the newspaper “Il Mattino” of Caserta. With sixteen books to her credit she has also edited seven didactic volumes. Speaker at conferences and study seminars, as a historian she has dedicated much of her research to the rewriting of the History of Women by collaborating with the Valerio Foundation for the History of Women, the Colorado State University for the Female Biography Project, the Encyclopedia of Women . She is also the director of Pacina Fazzi Editore’s Italian series.
Freelance journalist, Monica Lucignano was born in Battipaglia, Salerno, and she has lived up to 27 years in Napoli, in the Bagnoli district when it was still the “steel district”.
She has combined her passion for writing with the various phases of her life, writing for publications aimed at university students, for thematic blogs (cooking, maternity) and for various national webzines. Editor-in-chief for an online Campania newspaper, today she ranges between the culture and entertainment sectors, she reviews books, music and theatrical performances. She signs for Italian-Danish magazine Il Ponte and for Italian magazine Impatto Sonoro. Monica has also been working as a press agent for about a year. After living as an emigrant for about 10 years in Verona and returning to Napoli, today she feels like a citizen of the world. Curious and passionate about languages (she studied English French German and Spanish), she loves traveling with her family and is now self-taught Danish. Monica has finally opened the drawer where her dreams of her were crammed and is very busy making them come true while she lives.