History: A Novel (Italy)

Book #5

History: A Novel by Elsa Morante translated by William Weaver

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Weighing in at an impressive 734 pages is Morante’s novel centered in Rome during the 1940s. You could almost call it a work of historical fiction since Morante weaves in the history (with a capital H) of Italy during World War II with a story of a woman dealing with series of familial hardships. 

I chose this book because Elsa Morante made waves with this novel. She wrote something for the people of Italy and it was celebrated amongst regular readers.

This book was inspired by a newspaper article Morante read, which in 1947 reported the story of a woman found in her apartment with her recently deceased six-year-old son and an incredibly protective dog. Morante takes this story and builds an entire narrative around what may have happened to the woman prior to this scene, based on the events in Rome at that time. 

I began this project by reading books from countries I’ve visited and I loved being able to picture the streets, alleyways, and buildings of Rome as Morante tells her story. 

No joke, I read this entire book wondering who the narrator was. It’s such an intimate portrayal of a family struggling to survive through situations in which I never hope to find myself. This is a heavy tale (and a heavy book to carry around) and it turns out Morante is the narrator all along.

Morante frames each chapter as one year in the 1940s. In the beginning of each, she details what was happening in history during that year to help inform what’s to come. I learned a lot about Italy in the time of Mussolini, their allegiance with Germany, and the rise of communism amongst the people. I had no idea the level of bombing, fighting, and strive that occurred in Italy during the war. 

I was somewhat dreading this book because of its size, but I became captivated by Morante’s storytelling. It loses its way a bit toward the end as things begin to wrap up, but the cleverness she shows in humanizing the war more than made up for that blip.