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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Communist

Guido Morselli

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To purchase The Communist

Title: The Communist
Author: Guido Morselli
Genre: Novel
Written: (1965) (Eng. 2017)
Length: 323 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Communist - US
The Communist - UK
The Communist - Canada
Il comunista - Italia
  • Italian title: Il comunista
  • First published posthumously in 1976
  • Translated by Frederika Randall
  • With an Introduction by Elizabeth McKenzie

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Our Assessment:

B : fine character portrait and period/circumstances commentary

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The communist of the title is Walter Ferranini, a dedicated member of Italy's large and politically significant Communist Party at the end of the 1950s when he, in his mid-forties, sits in parliament representing the northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia. A tireless activist -- albeit one with a weak heart, from overwork in his youth -- he feels a bit out of place in Rome; he's a true backbencher: when the novel opens, he hasn't even spoken up in parliament yet, and he remains somewhat the outsider at party headquarters. In parliament he sits a few benches from his idol Palmiro Togliatti, the (real-life) head of the party, but Togliatti remains an elusive figure whom he never seems to be able to get close to (effectively and cleverly done by Morselli).
       Ferranini has some ambitions in his position. He'd like to introduce a bill on worker safety, but the party isn't supportive -- with the Communists in the opposition, it would never pass, and, besides, they have other concerns -- and so this project of his slowly goes nowhere. It's frustrating for this man who: "had an almost erotic passion for ideas".
       Ferranini is involved with a younger woman who works in publishing, and is the manager at a local bookstore, Nuccia. (She's no lightweight, either, as, for example, she's working on: "an introduction to a collection of works by Blanchot, Rousset, and Barthes", a commission she gets because her editor believes she is: "one of the few in Italy critically competent to approach that bristly tribe".) She is married -- though long separated from her husband -- and has a child -- a girl being raised by her grandparents, though Nuccia would love to bring her to Rome. She understands that for Ferranini the party comes first, over everything. She even joins the party -- but she's not wholeheartedly committed to the cause the way he is ("You signed up the way you might go to the shop to buy a bottle of cologne", Ferranini complains), and it only gets the party to interfere more in their lives. Indeed, the would-be revolutionaries are conservative in this respect, especially once Nuccia's husband comes back to town, complicating Ferranini's personal and professional life (as, of course: "Nothing in the lives of anyone in the party is 'personal'").
       Ferranini had to abandon his promising studies in his youth, working tirelessly -- and in the process damaging his health -- but coming to embrace the communist ideal. He actually spent several years in the United States, establishing himself there and eventually marrying ("surplus value's daughter", no less ...) -- but feeling like he betrayed his faith by becoming a part of the capitalist system. His marriage failing, he returned to Italy in 1945 -- but his love for Nancy is hard to shake. Nuccia is very understanding and accommodating, both of Ferranini's current situation, but also his pining for his long lost love (who was, however, a very difficult -- if also socially and politically engaged -- woman).
       Further complications arise from Ferranini being introduced to Alberto Moravia, and agreeing to submit an article to Moravia's periodical, Nuovi Argomenti. He submits the piece to the party press office for vetting, but they can't read his handwriting and it winds up getting published without going through the usual Communist-approval-process -- and then causes a small scandal, and no small trouble for Ferranini.
       His poor health, his romantic entanglement, his feeling of obligation as well as duty to the cause -- and how limited he feels in the position he has been thrust into -- already make for a simmering mid-life crisis; a small test from the party -- that he misreads at first -- and then the larger misstep of publishing the article brings things to a head. ("Fifteen years of consistency, of loyalty, and today a rebel. A deviationist", he moans, ashamed.)
       Morselli then even tests Ferranini in sending him to the poles of his being: an official trip to the glorious Soviet Union, as well as a blast from the past in the United States. In each case, his health inhibits the experience --but both trips also help shape his mind in deciding: whither now ?
       Ferranini struggles to find his place, within the party he is devoted to as well as in the society he wants to serve. He's old-fashioned -- "antiquated", one colleague calls him ("and that's coming from someone twenty years older than you") -- and many recognize that he's not meant to be a politician. Activist, organizer -- even theorist --, yes, but he's not made for (organized, party) politics.
       Morselli's character-portrait is, in part, a bit of a stretch -- the American experiences and connections, in particular -- but overall it is a fascinating glimpse of political life and a man torn between the ideals of his cause and the realities of his/the world. Even as Ferranini is a strict ideologist -- a true believer in the socialist cause, its underpinning (Marxist) theory, and, still, the Soviet example (in this strangely unsettled post-Stalinist time) -- and even though he seems almost entirely a political creature, governed by his duties to the party, Morselli's portrait is surprisingly human, and focused on the human. (Among the few missteps is Morselli's reliance on Ferranini's poor health -- presumably to emphasize his human frailty --, as Ferranini drifts off, in a variety of ways, rather too frequently.)
       There is some ideological debate, and The Communist is a political novel, about the Italy of those times, and the Communist Party there, but in its focused study of the man Ferranini the book becomes more than just that. The social, historical, and cultural observations are of interest (and amusement) -- though presumably vary, depending on interest --, as throughout Morselli offers a broad look at those changing (and unchanging) times, including very general observations such as the (parenthetical):

Italians live on blather, consume themselves in blather. Everything ends in blather, what a fool country.
       The tireless focus on Ferranini can also get to be a bit much -- and Nuccia can appear to be almost too understanding, putting up with his ways -- but part of the novel's success comes in how it mirrors Ferranini's own overwhelmed exhaustion as he tries to figure out what he wants to do with his life. It makes for a longer, heavier -- though not more difficult -- read, and overall is quite rewarding.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 October 2017

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The Communist: Reviews: Other books by Guido Morselli under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Guido Morselli lived 1912 to 1973.

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© 2017-2022 the complete review

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