After having read “Doctor Faustus” by Thomas Mann, a real masterpiece, I wanted to approach some Italian literature, something shorter and different. “The Catholic School” was advised to me, and so I got the Kindle version of it. The dotted line told me promptly the approximate length… 1300 pages in the traditional format!
But this novel is based in a specific historical affair (“the Massacre of Circeo”, a true story of rape and murder), the troubled 70s in Italy and specifically in Rome, in a specific area I know quite well: Trieste Area. This novel is about what neo-fascism was in Italian Republic. It was presented to me by my friend Frescobaldo (a name of fantasy like many in this book) as a novel unveiling some mysteries of those times as the author really was schoolmate of some criminals in a famous denominational “Grammar School”: San Leone Magno (“Great Sacred Lion”).
The number of vignettes this novel made me re-emerge from my personal life are countless (I am 22 years younger by the way), but as a sociologist I’d like to cite three points I deem essential and a total novelty in how the 70s are exposed:
- The real nature of the neo-fascism is here brutally and at the same time analytically dissected. This is a psychological and societal analysis of what neo-fascism was, and unfortunately has continued to be until mid 2000s. It tells the mistakes and why it was difficult to understand overwhelmingly the phenomenon (perhaps until the third point of this list was alive). In few words, neo-fascism has been a desperate trial to find protagonism. Neo-fascism was the acknowledgment that Italy was not coming back nor establishing what Spain, Portugal or Greece were (and were about to stop to be). Neo-fascism also was totally unable to stop the Communist Party, that failed to get political power for other reasons. Neo-fascism was also closer to Nazism than Fascism. The absurd gender education and values transmitted by a dramatically changing Catholic Church made the rest in “mistaking the doses in the pursuit of education”, as the Author affirms. This novel really gives explanations to facts that I was hardly able to give any, as the 70s never ended in the 80s, 90s and 2000s to expand their, although weaker and weaker, cultural waves (I am talking especially to students’ movements).
- Consequentially, The Truth about many mysteries in 70s Italian history is gotten not from a deeper knowledge of conspiracy-like theories and evidence (I confess I like a lot the genre); to understand the truth is more likely to accept that some people – like Angelo Izzo, the most famous of the three monsters of Circeo – have been purposely false informers with the only aim to get attention on them. It was just selfish perverse narcissism. Deeper understating of history comes from deeper understanding of changes in the reproduction of values (what else education is?!). In one word, which I can’t translate with accuracy, a person like Izzo was just a delatore (a would say a kind of “fake informant”).
- The liberal, pro-Enlightenment intellectuals of the 70s, usually from the Left spectrum of Italian politics (mostly Communist of variants of it), are definitively overcome and affectionately explained in their erudite contradictions. The figure of “professor Cosmo” is particularly sound and humane to this regard. I may add that if recently the former leader of the Left Party “Rifondazione Comunista” declared to have found his family in “Comunione e Liberazione” (a very strong Italian conservative Catholic lobby), Albinati was very mild depicting this end of “public Atheism” in Italy. (To this regard, and for the taste of complex plots too, I may say Albinati looks like Sorrentino)
The “Second Vatican Council” and its implementation is at the very root of this socialization dynamic via education, even though interestingly enough it is never mentioned across the book. For those who would define themselves liberal and/or Catholic, this point ought to be of some interest as in my personal experiences in that Area of Rome and in 8 years of Catholic denominational Schools in Florence, I may say that during the Polish Pope epoch those values and spirit have been abandoned and at the same time “adjusted & fixed”.
I found nevertheless a weak point: although I couldn’t get rid of my Kindle until I finished it all, I think the book is a little longer than necessary. It could have said all it tells in much less pages. I, on my behalf, strongly recommend this novel to whoever is interested to understand politics, gender issues and the first cohort of people in the Western world who experienced a structural crisis in Italy. To me, as part of a even greater crisis (the current one) who grew up in the shining 80s, this novel is particularly essential.
[In the pic below: Gianni Alemanno in the 70s with neo-fascist symbol and during an extreme-right demonstration. He eventually become the disastrous Mayor of Rome in 2008]