A couple more book reviews. Both books were written during the early years of Fascism in Italy, but they're quite different in style and substance. "The Time of Indifference" is not political at all, while "Fontamara" is clearly political. The former is closer in atmosphere to the decadence of "The Great Gatsby", while "Fontamara" is closer to the desperation in "Of Mice and Men", with some of the political fable- like qualities of "Animal Farm". 1. "The Time of Indifference" ("Gli indifferenti") by Alberto Moravia <http://www.amazon.com/Time-Indifference/dp/1586420054> This is the first novel by Alberto Moravia, author of "The Conformist", "Boredom" and "Contempt". It is set in Rome in the late 1920s. It's the story of a middle-class family that has been used to the easy life, but has run into some financial troubles. Maria Grazia is a widow, living with her two children: daughter Carla and son Michele. The mother has a long-standing boyfriend, Leo, but he seems to have shifted his attention to her daughter. The other main character is Lisa, one of Maria Grazia's close friends who happens to be an ex-girlfriend of Leo. The pivotal event of the novel is Carla's 24th birthday. She is aware of Leo's intentions, and decides that she will acquiesce, even though this will obviously hurt her mother. She sees it as the start of her new life. Meanwhile, 20 year old Michele has been flirting with Lisa, and is trying to decide whether to take it any further. Tensions between the characters surface at various times in the novel. When Maria Grazia and her family fall behind in their mortgage payments, Leo (self-made man and opportunist) tries to convince her to sell their house to him at a bargain price. He considers he's doing them a favour by helping them settle their debts. Interesting confrontations also occur when Michele finds out about Leo and Carla. The mother, however, seems quite oblivious to what is actually going on. She thinks Lisa is her rival, attempting to win back old flame Leo. This is another psychological novel by Moravia. Through the extensive use of internal monologues, you're always aware of what each character is thinking as events unfold. Admittedly at times I found this style a bit too intense, almost claustrophobic. But this approach successfully brings out the theme of the book, which as suggested by the title is indifference: lethargy, lack of emotion, halfheartedness. All of the characters think and resolve to act a certain way, but end up doing something else. This mismatch is particularly stark in the case of Michele, the youngest and arguably the central character. Overall, an interesting read, but not quite as good as some of the author's later work (which I've reviewed in the past). 2. "Fontamara" by Ignazio Silone <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignazio_Silone> This is the story of a peasant community living in Central Italy during the time of the Fascist regime. The peasants from Fontamara struggle to make a living in the face of corruption and greed from government and capitalists. Even the local priest, don Abbacchio, seems to have turned his back on his parishioners. Everyone tries to take advantage of the "backward" and gullible "cafoni". An outsider, l'Impresario, has bought up a lot of land upstream from Fontamara. He begins using his political connections to great effect. The authorities want to divert the stream that irrigates the land of the Fontamarese, coincidentally to the benefit of the businesses of l'Impresario. First they send a man to gather signatures for a petition, requesting the diversion(!). The mostly illiterate cafoni are tricked into signing. Then, after they find out what has happened, they request the assistance of don Circostanza (Mr Circumstance), the "Friend of the People". He is a rich landowner and former mayor, who negotiates a "compromise" to share the water. The deal means both l'Impresario and the Fontamerese will each get three-quarters of the water. The peasants wonder how such an arrangement will work, but they have faith in don Circostanza and so they accept the deal. Later it is revealed that the deal actually means l'Impresario will get three-quarters of the water, and the Fontamarese will get three-quarters of what's left! These are a couple of the many examples where the gullibility of the peasants is taken advantage of. But the cafoni can only accept so much before they wake up and react. It is the responses of the peasants that result in tragic consequences by the end of the novel. In some ways this book echoes some of the characters and themes in the epic Italian novel, "The Betrothed" by Alessandro Manzoni. It's also interesting to note that the author was a founding member of the Italian Communist party. He wrote the book while in exile in Switzerland. But the surprising "twist" is that, according to evidence that has recently emerged, Silone may have actually been an informant for the Fascist secret police during the period. This revelation has prompted people to question the book's message. Did the author use his writing as a cover, almost as if he was acting as a double-agent? Could the author have intended the book as a cautionary tale against the excesses of corruption, rather than being a simple exposè of the corrupt actions of the Fascism regime? We may never know. Whatever the motivations for the novel, it still stands up as a well- written (albeit exaggerated) story about the struggles of poor and illiterate peasants in an environment of greed and corruption.