Like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard, The Day of Judgment is a matchless poetic evocation of change and decay in an era now lost, unfolding the melancholy rhythms of the isolated Sardinian town of Nuoro at the turn of the century through the family fortunes of Don Sebastiano Sanna, its aristocrat and its notary. Through him, now an old man, we see the malarial plain and the olive groves, and the vineyards and orchards laboriously hacked out of the craggy slopes. And through his reflections on the town ...
Like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard, The Day of Judgment is a matchless poetic evocation of change and decay in an era now lost, unfolding the melancholy rhythms of the isolated Sardinian town of Nuoro at the turn of the century through the family fortunes of Don Sebastiano Sanna, its aristocrat and its notary. Through him, now an old man, we see the malarial plain and the olive groves, and the vineyards and orchards laboriously hacked out of the craggy slopes. And through his reflections on the town where he was born we see also Nuoro's other citizens, who come forward into the limelight for a page or two and leave in the mind what seems to be their whole life story. From this insignificant place and these negligible lives Satta created a sombre and tragic pageant, for in Nuoro the sin of having lived is such that the dead are restless, awaiting some day of judgment that will set them free at last from life.
Slowly, from cobbled path to pastureland to overarching mountain, the ancient town of Nuoro in Sardinia emerges as the chief player in this singular, profoundly intelligent, superbly translated novel. If one man can be said to stand taller than the rest, it is Don Sebastiano, the notary, who, though he has labored hard for 50 years amassing vineyards, wheat fields and oil presses, is not rich, because ``only the cemetery is rich.'' And indeed as each of his seven sons leaves the town for the university, seeking money, fame, status, Sebastiano mocks their search for ``bread made of something better than wheat.'' For he knows that even if they don't remain in Nuoro, the town will remain in them, as it has in all the peasants, shepherds and landowners who figure in the narrative, whose sorrows, grudges and centuries-old habits distinguish them so precisely that the reader can hear their voices. A tenuous yet shattering plot, generated by the hatred of schoolteacher Don Ricciotti for Don Sebastiano takes shape toward the end. Ricciotti galvanizes the countryside, forms a new political party, stands for election, charges Sebastiano with murder. This wise and glowing novel has been widely read in Europe since its publication in 1979. (September)
Here are two distinctive novels from Italy written by authors of an earlier generation. Set in Satta's birthplace, Nuoro, Sardinia, at the turn of the century, The Day of Judgment portrays the family of Don Sebastiano Sanna, a notary and leading citizen of Nuoro. Satta, who is known for having rewritten the Italian penal code after World War II, was clearly exercising both his memory and his imagination in this richly evocative work: ``I too,'' he tells us in his Epilogue, ``was once a little boy, and I am beset by the memory of when I watched the whirl of the snowflakes with my nose pressed against the windowpane . . . . To know ourselves we have to live our own lives to the bitter end . . . . And even then we need someone to gather us up, to revive us, to speak about us both to ourselves and to others, as in a last judgment.'' While Satta's novel, which was first published, posthumously, in Italy in 1979, is reminiscent of Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, Savinio's Speaking to Clio (published in 1941 and the first of Savinio's works to appear in English) may remind one of the fiction of Borges, the poetry of Apollinaire, the painting of de ChiricoSavinio's brother. In this distinctly philosophical and surrealistically episodic novel, which Savinio called ``a garden for the clarity, lightness, and amenity that I acquired in my mature years,'' the narrator follows Charun (``he who escorts souls from this life to the other'') into the past, into history, memory, dream, vision. Both these well-translated novels deserve a place in general fiction collections. Marcia G. Fuchs, Guilford Free Lib., Ct.