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Review of Voci dal Sud: A journey to southern Italy with Carlo Levi and his Christ stopped at Eboli

posted June 28th, 2012

Voci dal Sud: A journey to southern Italy with Carlo Levi and his Christ stopped at Eboli. By Daniela Bartalesi-Graf. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. Pp. 448. ISBN 9780300137446. $55.

Reviewed by John Ryan, University of Northern Colorado

This book is an advanced-level, Italian-language textbook based on the literary and visual artistic work of Carlo Levi, namely, that associated with his acclaimed novel, Christ Stopped at Eboli, and his ten-month exile to the southern Italian region of Basilicata (also known as Lucania) during the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. The reason for the book’s specific regional focus is to give voice to Italy’s south, hence the book’s title, deviating from the more typical coverage of such northern regions of the Peninsula as Florence, Rome, or Venice.

This book is carefully divided into seven chapters, spanning historical, regional, literary, visual art, and cinematic treatment of Levi’s novel and exile. Providing an historical backdrop to Levi’s novel from the years of unification until the time when the novel takes place (1935), Ch. 1 takes students through several important milestones and realities which helped form the south as a different entity from the north. Ch. 2 is a comprehensive review of Levi’s novel, which summarizes each of Levi’s chapters, and each summary includes vocabulary, comprehension questions, and prompts for reflection. Ch. 3 transforms the student’s experience from literary to visual with inclusion and analysis of twelve color reproductions of paintings produced by Levi during his exile. Students are encouraged to reflect and think critically by ‘reading’ the featured paintings.

Moving from the visual arts to cinematographic representation, Ch. 4 is a comprehensive discussion of Francesco Rosi’s 1979 film based on Levi’s novel and emphasizes certain topics more suited to discussion of the film medium, such as the use of language, portrayal of women, nationalism, power, Levi’s transformation in the film, and American colonization, among others. Chs. 5–7 provide a more modern look at Italy’s south. Ch. 5 resumes the history lesson of Ch. 1 from World War II to modern times. Ch. 6 takes a closer look at the Basilicata region of Italy, how it has evolved since Levi’s times and continues to evolve. Finally, Ch. 7 takes a closer look at Aliano, the town of exile in Levi’s novel, where it is today, and what its present-day citizens think and feel about its past, present, and future.

The book includes separate appendices in which short essays and narratives about the south by authors other than Levi are included for additional reading. The book is also supplemented by a companion website at yalebooks.com/vocidalsud, which currently includes audio files of the interviews presented in the text, sample syllabi, photos of the Basilicata region, and web links mentioned in the textbook. Readers are urged to return periodically for updates to the site.

This book makes a valuable contribution for all advanced students of Italian in that it presents another side to the story of Italy’s history and development, namely that of its southern region. This is especially important given the large percentage of Southern Italians who immigrated to America at the end of the nineteenth-early twentieth century, a theme also treated in the book.