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Alberto Bevilacqua. Viaggio al principio del giorno.

Turin. Einaudi. 2001. 321 pages. 12.39 [euro]. ISBN 88-06-15836-8

ALBERTO BEVILACQUA, who was born in 1934, has a literary career that stretches back to 1955. His excellent Web site ( credits him with twenty-seven novels and collections of prose (not counting this one), nine volumes of poetry, and eight films, three of them adaptations of his own novels. Given his imposing presence on the literary and cultural scene over this long period, Bevilacqua can by now perhaps be forgiven such foibles as the self-indulgence and tendency to recycle earlier writings that are evident in this work.

Though a man of the left and fiercely proud of his working-class origins, Bevilacqua has selected a title for his recent book that derives from a famous novel by a rightwing author: Louis-Ferdinand Celine's Voyage au bout de la nuit. A journey, then, not to "the end of night" but to the beginning of the day (that perhaps will arrive only with our deaths?), Bevilacqua's "book of his life" is a personal account of who he really is "as a man, as a narrator, and as a poet." Here the author is inviting his readers to "seek him out," though the "cercatemi" that he addresses to them could also be interpreted as a challenge to "find me if you can."

Viaggio al principio del giorno spurns conventional chronology as an organizing principle and is structured instead according to the regions of its author's imagination. Its nine sections treat, among many other things, the beauty and lore of Bevilacqua's native Parma and the surrounding countryside, especially the region bordering the Po river; chronicles of the often violent political activities that tore the region into bloody pieces during fascism and war; the author's reflections on the many women (principal among them his mother) who have influenced his life; and evocations of family members who include not only his mother (and her battles with mental illness) but also his aviator, blackshirt, and often absentee father and his surrogate father and mentor in political subversion, "Uncle Toni." These topics are treated through brief narratives, freewheeling reflections on the author's youth and coming of age, and gleanings from the mature writer's travel writings, interspersed with poetry in both Italian and dialect. The tone throughout might be described as a mixture of bluster and unbuttoned confession, especially in regard to the author's family and his own continuing erotic education.

Some of this material is frankly gossipy with a good deal of name-dropping--i.e., Charlie Chaplin and Jorge Luis Borges, Orson Welles and Roberto Rossellini, Francisco Franco and Slobodan Milosevic. Other issues that loom in the work include the loneliness and sense of one's one mortality attendant upon old age. A book that is certainly self-indulgent--though perhaps positively so?--and probably conceals more about this author's innermost life than it in fact reveals, this latest offering from a venerable writer once again puts on display the sensual, almost corpulent language and imagination that are the hallmarks of spellbinder Bevilacqua's literary ragbag of tricks and wonders.

Charles Klopp

Ohio State University
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Author:Klopp, Charles
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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