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Macaroni: Romanzo di santi e delinquenti.

Macaroni is the joint creation of two gifted people: Francesco Guccini, from Modena, writer and musician; and Loriano Macchiavelli, from Bologna, writer and creator of the popular fictional detective Sarti Antonio. There are actually two stories here, one set in the mountainous regions of the Apennines between the provinces of Tuscany and Emilia, and the other in France. In the first part of the book we are taken back and forth from 1884 to 1939 in order to show how many Italian workers emigrated from a desperate situation in their own country. to France, where, under conditions not much better than at home, they worked as laborers in glass factories, coal mines, salt ponds, and at other jobs at minimum wages, with their bosses pocketing the better part of their earnings. From the beginning they were scorned by the French, who disparagingly dubbed them "macaroni" and who on at least one notable occasion (1893) turned on them physically, killing several of them.

The second story takes us back to the Apennine village in 1940, where the main protagonist is the Maresciallo or warrant officer of the Carabinieri, a southerner from near Naples who is now the replacement for his recently murdered predecessor. The tie-in of the two stories becomes clear as some of the Italians who had emigrated to France now return home. It is here that the mystery begins, with the murder of four people of the region. The efforts of the Maresciallo to track down the killer (or killers) will hold the reader's attention for the most part, but the main value of the novel, and indeed its most positive quality, is the picture it paints of life in the small village. In their remoteness the inhabitants are a world away from civilization and life as practiced in the more accessible parts of Italy, even though Mussolini's Fascists are very active in Bologna, the nearest large city. On one occasion a group of four Fascist officials, all in the proper black shirts, visit the town, but they are not welcomed by either the townspeople or the Carabinieri and they do not remain long. The Maresciallo has a hard time pursuing his investigations, since the locals are tight-lipped and quick to become suspicious of outsiders, including the Maresciallo himself. However, the saving grace, where tradition persists and friendships flourish, is the local pub, where a good bottle of wine, a plate of pasta, a deck of cards, and a roaring stove in winter provide the social center for all who care to come. And it is here, not surprisingly, that the Maresciallo finally cracks his case.

One passage in the book describes the Maresciallo very accurately, capturing his personality and at the same time saying all that is necessary about the village:

[Il Maresciallo] e sempre piu confinto di avere poco in comune con i luoghi e la gente di qui e che non ci sia nulla da fare per cambiare le cose: non arrivera mai neppure a cominciare a capirli. I luoghi e la gente.

Fra quei monti e dentro quei boschi che non lasciano passare lo sguardo, si nascondono il passato, il presente, il futuro e i misteri che sfuggono giorno dopo giorno, fino a quando il tempo non li avra cancellati e nessuno ne conservera piu memoria.

The Maresciallo gets his man, and we are happy for him. In the end, however, we will remember him more as a wonderful character, plunked down in a setting of memorable if stubborn and not always charming townspeople, than as the detective who solved the town mystery.

Rufus C. Crane Key West, Fl.
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Author:Crane, Rufus C.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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