Bread and Wine

“Bread and Wine” by Ignazio Silone is one of those books where the boundary between fiction and politics breaks down dramatically. The story is based on Silone’s experiences in Italy during the fascist period prior to World War II. It is a masterful work even in English translation of the original Italian with lush descriptions and characters questioning and debating canonical political views.

For example this excerpt:

    “‘We live our lives provisionally,’ he said. ‘We think that for the time being things are bad, that for the time being we must make the best of them and adapt or humiliate ourselves, but that it’s all only provisional and that one day real life will begin. We prepare for death complaining that we never lived. Sometimes I’m haunted by the thought that we have only one life and that we live it provisionally, waiting in vain for the day when real life will begin. And so life passes by. I assure you that of all the people I know not one lives in the present. No-one gets any benefit from what he does every day. No-one is in a condition to say: On that day, at that moment, my life began. Believe me, even those who have power and take advantage of it live on intrigues and anxieties and are full of disgust at the dominant stupidity. They too live provisionally and spend their lives waiting.'”‘One musn’t wait,’ Pietro said. ‘Those who emigrate spend their lives waiting too. That’s the trouble. One must act. One must say: Enough, from this very day.'”‘But if there’s no freedom?’ Nunzio said.”Freedom is not a thing you can receive as a gift,’ Pietro said. ‘One can be free even under a dictatorship on one simple condition, that is, if one struggles against it. A man who thinks with this own mind and remains uncorrupted is a free man. A man who struggles for what he believes to be right is a free man. You can live in the most democratic society in the world, and if you are lazy, callous, servile, you are not free, in spite of the absence of violence and coercion, you are a slave. Freedom is not a thing that must be begged from others. You must take it for yourself, whatever share you can.’

    “Nunzio was thoughtful and troubled. ‘You are our revenge,’ he said. ‘You are the best part of ourselves. Pietro, try to be strong. Try to live and endure.Take real care of your health.’

Or this excerpt:

    “‘In my privations I studied and tried to find at least a promise of liberation,’ Uliva said. ‘I did not find it. For a long time I was tormented by the question why all revolutions, all of them without exception, began as liberations movements and ended as tyrannies. Why has no revolution ever escaped that fate?'”‘Even if that were true,’ Pietro said, ‘it would be necessary to draw a conclusion different from yours. All other revolutions have gone astray, one would have to say, but we shall make one that will remain faithful to itself.'”‘Illusions, illusions,’ said Uliva. ‘You haven’t won yet, you are still a conspiratorial movements, and you’re rotten already. The regenerative ardour that filled us when we were in the students’ cell has already become an ideology, a tissue of fixed ideas, a spider’s web. That shows that there’s no escape for you either. And, mind you, you’re still only at the benginning of the descending parabola. Perhaps it’s not your fault,’ Ulive went on, ‘but that of the mechanism in which you’re caught up. To propagate itself every new idea is crystallized into formulas; to maintain itself it entrsusts itself to a carefully recruited body of interpreters, who may sometimes actually be appropriately paid but at all events are subject to a higher authority charged with resolving doubts and supressing deviations. Thus every new idea invariably ends by becoming a fixed idea, immobile and out of date. When it becomes official state doctrine there’s no more escape. Under an orthodox totalitarian regime a carpenter or farm labourer may perhaps manage to settle down, eat, digest, produce a family in peace and mind his own business. But for an intellectual, there’s no way out. He must either stoop and enter the dominant clergy or resign himself to going hungry and being eliminated at the first opportunity.'”

And this excerpt:
“‘Cristina,’ he wrote, ‘it’s true that one has what one gives. But to whom and how is one to give?”‘Our love, our disposition for sacrifice and self-abnegation are fruitful only if they are carried into relations with our fellows. Morality can live and flourish only in practical life. We are responsible also for others.

“‘If we apply our moral feelings to the evil that prevails all round us, we cannot remain inactive and console ourselves with the expectation of an ultra-terrestrial life. The evil to be comated is not the sad abstraction that prevents millions of people from becoming human. We too are directly responsible for this…

“‘I believe that nowadays there is no other way of saving one’s soul. He is saved who overcomes his individual, family, class selfishness and fees himself of the idea of resignation to the existing evil.

“‘My dear Cristina, one must not be obsessed with the idea of security, even the security of one’s own virtue. Spiritual life is not compatible with security. To save oneself one has to take risks.'”

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