Each chapter is prefaced by quasi-journalistic accounts of world events at the time about which the chapter will narrate, and sometimes by a poem or citation. These nine prefaces, which reflect what Morante knew and choose to emphasize in 1974, are tinged by an anarchist and ecological slant. The prefaces also point to the comprehensive and idiosyncratic research that Morante conducted for this novel on World War II, Jewish persecution, Russia, China, and beyond.
Each preface provides an assertively opinionated summary or chronicle of political, economic, and social events in the first half of the twentieth century, which may or may not reflect the views of the narrator.
Written in short factual sentences, the prefaces combine Morante’s writing with thinly disguised sources, such as Gramsci’s Letters from Prison. The effect is to constantly set the story of Ida Ramundo against a backdrop of world events and transformations: the story of the victims against the History of the powers that be.
The prefaces have been among the most often criticized aspects of the novel, yet I believe they are an integral part of its structure. They provide a bird’s eye view of the larger geo-political context and create a constant tension between History and storytelling.
Re-reading the novel today, and on this side of the Atlantic, these prefaces function as a device through which the author focuses our attention on the fact that the story she is telling relates directly to all of history and its inexorable crushing of lives.
Preface to 1943
JANUARY-FEBRUARY In Russia the collapse of the Don front marks the ruinous end of the Italian expeditionary corps, overwhelmed by Soviet troops. Forced by the Nazi-Fascist leaders to an impossible stand, and then abandoned in confusion, without orders, equipment, or leadership, the soldiers of the CSIR and the ARMIR are dispersed and die, unburied, on the frozen steppe. On the Baltic, after seventeen months of siege, the Read Army liberates Leningrad. The number of civilians who die during the siege is 630.000. At Stalingrad, definitive surrender of the Germans remaining in the city, surrounded by the Russian forces and reduced to a depository of corpses. (2:46 PM, 2 February: in Stalingrad no further sign of fighting.) In North Africa, the Italian colonies of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, abandoned by the Italo-Germans, are placed under Allied military administration. The Yugoslav resistance against the Axis occupying forces spread to Greece and Albania. From the United States, a new bulletin declares that, among the workers in the war industries, there are more than four million women. In Germany, a decree is issued, drafting all male Germans between 16 and 65 years of age and all females between 17 and 45, for labor in defense of the country.
MARCH-JUNE In Italy, for the first time during the Fascist period, there is a workers’ strike. The strike, called by the workers at the Fiat plant in Turin, spreads to other industries in the North. The organization of clandestine parties, opposed to the regime, is intensified, with the Communist Party particularly active. In Warsaw, at the end of the war in Africa, with the final surrender of the Axis to the Allies, opening the way to Italy. American naval strategy prevails in the Pacific, and the Japanese suffer a series of defeats. To show that the USSR is renouncing plans for world revolution, and to favor the coalition with the Western Powers, Stalin dissolves the Comintern.
JULY -AUGUST New defeat of the Panzerdivisionen on the Soviet front, and landing of the Allied forces in Sicily, which is rapidly occupied. In Rome, the Fascist chiefs plot to dismiss the Duce, with the idea of dealing with the Allies and saving their own interest. A similar plan on the part of the King, to save his crown. Meeting of the Fascist Grand Council, where, for the first time in the history of the institution, there is a majority vote against the Duce. Receiving him at Villa Savoia, the King informs the Duce of his dismissal and has the Carabinieri arrest him as he leaves. After various moves, the prisoner is taken, under heavy escort, to an isolated locality of the Gran Sasso mountain in the Abruzzi. To replace the deposed Duce,The King appoints Badoglio, a monarchist general of the Regime and conqueror of Adis Ababa. Badoglio simultaneously proclaims the end of Fascism and the continuation of the war alongside the Nazis, ordering the Italian army and the police to repress fiercely any attempt at popular uprising. Meanwhile, the general and the King engage in Secret negotiations with the Allies on one hand and with the Germans on the other. Rejoicing occurs throughout Italy at the end of the dictatorship, while large Nazi contingents gather at the border, ready to intervene in the peninsula.
SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER Signing the armistice with Italy, announced by the Allied radio. The King of Italy, the Government, and the High Command flee towards the South, already occupied by the Allies, abandoning the army, Rome, and the rest of Italy to their fate. By order of the Führer, the prisoner Mussolini is freed by a unit of Hitler’s paratroops, who land on the Gran Sasso in helicopter. Headed by Mussolini, under Hitler’s control, the Nazi-Fascist Republic of Salò is founded in the North of Italy. The Italian army collapses, both in the peninsula and in the Axis occupied territories, where Italian units are massacred by the Germans or else deported to Germany for forced labor in the war industry. Those who manage to escape seek refuge in the South of Italy, or join local partisan bands. The Allies, after landing in Salerno, arrest their advance north of Naples. Above this line, all Italy issued German military occupation. Groups of armed resistance against occupying forces begin to be formed, especially in the North. Through the Spanish Embassy, the monarchist Badoglio government in the South communicates Italy’s declaration of war against Germany, while the Salo’ republic publishes decrees calling up young men for the formation of a Nazi-Fascist army. More workers’ strike in the industries in the North. As in other occupied territories, also in Italy the Nazis proceed to the “final solution of the Jewish problem.” In Moscow, the ‘International,” official anthem of the USSR, is replaced with the new anthem in praise of “Great Russia.”
NOVEMBER-DECEMBER In Italy, bloody reprisals by the Nazis, assisted by Fascist squads, which have returned to action, in the service of the occupiers. In the cities and countryside of central and northern Italy, the partisans’ armed resistance is becoming organized m coordinated by the clandestine political parties, and especially by the Communist Party. The German counter offensive in Russia breaks down. Violent air raids on Berlin. The Big Three (Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt) meet in Teheran…