War literature in the 20th century has a clear focus on World War I; the literary representation of World War II has not reached the same saturation.
Perhaps the overwhelming and far-reaching destructiveness of the latter conflict, as well as its occurrence as number two in a sequence of large-scale protracted global wars, has rendered its romanticising more difficult.
Works of art with more direct expressiveness like music (Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony and the Second Piano Sonata, Prokofiev’s three “war sonatas” – the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth) have been more successful in capturing the zeitgeist and thus have demonstrated a higher level of cultural endurance. Italian literary works treating the country’s experience between 1939 and 1945 are scarce, especially in comparison to the corpus of writings on World War I.
On the other hand, there are several writers who have dedicated almost all their production to the topic of World War II.
Mario Tobino’s Lost Love [Il perduto amore] (1979) is a fine example of this literary strand, at least formally. The text tells the story of physician lieutenant Alfredo and Red Cross nurse Romana Augusta Ludovisi a.k.a. Dedé who meet in a field hospital in the Libyan desert (Libya was an Italian colony at the time). Yearningly embracing the few sparks of the fresh relationship, they return to their native Italy, hoping to continue life together. Things do not turn out as expected and Alfredo eventually switches his focus from his feelings towards already extinguished Dedé to his true passion – poetry.
The story is simplified and told rather sketchily; the chain of events is built well, but it also appears too simplistic. The first part of the novel lacks a clear focus – there are several axes that receive equal treatment: the love story; life in the Italian colony in Libya (presented only from the Italian perspective); war. In my view, situating the events in the Libyan desert offers large opportunities for descriptive passages. Instead, the style of writing is reportage-like, almost like a scenario. Separate scenes are surprisingly short, dialogues are bereft of depth, characters do not have an own speech identity (or, at times, any identity at all).
The treatment of the psychological aspect is flawed, too. As readers, we never really grasp what Alfredo and Dedé’s “love” is based on. Tobino consistently speaks of “love,” and yet something else seems to be at work. This opportunity has been missed, too – there is not a single scene of true intimacy in the novel.
This text of missed opportunities can be understood in a myriad of ways, for most of which it would be a waste of mental energy to take an attempt at, considering the shallow character of the piece.
I wish I could draw a conclusion on colonialism and war, perhaps compare it with the current state of emergency. But if I do, I might be going too far. Sometimes, reviews can be good in advising you what is not worth reading.
Mario Tobino, Il perduto amore, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milan, 1979
13 April 2020
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