BOOK REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATION: THE SKY IS RED BY GIUSEPPE BERTO
The novels opens with a quote from the Bible. It's taken from Matthew: " In the evening you say: It will be fair weather, for the sky is red". This quote from Jesus and his warning to the generation that is looking for signs, one that is able to interpret the weather but not the times they're living in is quite interesting. I can't help but wonder - what does it mean? In the context of the novel, where the bombing takes place not long into the novel and the sky turns red, it could mean a number of things. Does it mean to say there is hope ahead? What does the red symbolize? Blood but perhaps also love. Does the red in the title stands for communism or is it more closely related to the Bible source? That's an fascinating quote to open the novel with, I should say.
The novels opens in a poverty ridden place (Treviso), with one family put in centre by arrival of one of its estranged members- the young Giovanna. As Tolstoy, wisely said- every family is unhappy in its own way. The family in question is unhappy in many ways. Giovanna comes back home to her family in Treviso. Her misfortune is that she is pregnant. However, Giovanna doesn't know who the father of her child is- and how could she know, given that the supports herself and her family with prostitution. Her mother and brother Augusto are not happy to see her at all. When they find out Giovanna wants to keep the baby, they try to convenience her to abort. The young woman is shocked by the rebukes of her non-caring mother and violent brother Augusto. Giovanna accuses them of wanting abortion only so she would immediately continue to support them with prostitution- an accusation mostly likely true. Her brother lives with a woman with whom he has a child out of wedlock and she supports both of them and her mother. Augusto doesn't seem to be grateful for it, but ready to strike his sister. When the mother reluctantly smooths things over, the young woman goes on to explain that she wants this baby no matter what. This baby is to be a girl by name of Guilia. She's going to be one of the two female protagonists of this novels, together with her first cousin Clara (daughter of Augusto) who is about a year older than her (already a baby while Giovanna is pregnant). The older Carla is the daughter of the brother and younger Giulia is the daughter of the sister. The family dynamic described looks pretty grim to start with and the narrative to follow isn't merry either. Poverty seems to be the main issue of these times and the girls will feel it too. There is war being fought, but nobody suspects such an unimportant and poor place as the one they live in could be bombed or attacked. The reality will be pretty dark for these two girls growing up in these difficult times and their family is no rock, either.
To such a problematic family are the two girls who are the protagonists of this novel born into, that the war problems and poverty are not all they need to worry about. Giulia's mother dies and so she is orphaned. Giulia keeps tender memories of her mother, who as it seems truly loved her. Her cousin doesn't have it much better in terms of luck. When the brother (Carla's father) is put into the prison, Carla's mother soon finds issues keeping work (on account on everyone knowing her husband is a thief). So, finally Carla's mother abandons her and goes off to work some place else. Therefore, Carla is also left in care of her grandmother. Carla and Giulia are growing up with their grandmother, who is anything but caring and tender. The younger girl still has some respect for her grandmother, perhaps even some sentiment, while the older one Carla, defies her grandmother and endures beating. Carla often sneaks out of the house because she is in love with a young boy Tulio who is studying to be a mechanic.
One night, Carla convinces her younger cousin Giulia to come with her to her date- mostly so that the grandmother would let them go. Carla says they are going to the shelter and invites the grandmother but leaves before the grandmother joins them. It is unclear whether the grandmother would have really come. Nobody is really afraid of the bombing. However, in a twist of irony, it is going to the shelter that saves both girls from certain death as their town undergoes severe bombing. The only reasons why Giulia and Carla were in shelter was for Carla to have a pretense for meeting her date Tulio- and yet it is what has saved their life. This moment is one of the turning points in the novel.
The emotions of the girls as bombing takes place are described in detail, especially those of Giulia who is a more tender and sensitive soul than Carla. A soldier comforts Giulia when she is overwhelmed with fear in the shelter- probably she reminds me of his daughter or some other girl. A bit of humanity is showed in that moment when two people comfort one another in a difficult situation. Later on, Tulio also comforts Giulia. The psychological portrayal of characters in this novel is truly exceptional. The bombing changes their lives forever- and not just theirs. In such a short time, it is possible to loose everyone you loved in an extremely violent way. Surely it is horrible to loose it all in a natural catastrophe, but is even worse in the war, because wars generally take longer to end and you never know what to expect. Humans can be cruel to one another- but also tender. This book shows both sides of the human nature- the good and the bad. In the chaos of the war, sometimes it is the children who are acting as adults. The moments in the shelter are described vividly but those following the bombing even more. The author describes the horrors of bombing in an extremely realistic way. As the children roam the now destroyed city lead by Tulio, they are faced with images of complete horror. Almost everyone they knew is dead.
Did you love your grandmother dearly ? is a question asked from the girls. When she says no, the answer it- it's better you didn't. That part of the town is completely ruined. The grandmother is dead and so is almost everyone else. Even if the grandmother wasn't the most tender soul, it is still a great shock for the girls. The children don't have it easy now. There are some places they can go, shelters but even there it is uncertain whether and when they will be fed and how they will live. The teenage lovers Tulio and Carla decide to stay together, even if it is obvious that the bombing changed the boy. He is no longer interested in marrying Carla. The war has made Tulio want to assume a new role- and find a new purpose in his life. It will be revealed that it will be the role of a communist, someone fighting for something he believes in. Carla wants to stay with him no matter what and her first cousin Giulia doesn't want to part from them either. Carla is all the family Giulia has now. Tulio seems to feel protective towards the younger Giulia so he is happy she decides to stay with them. Among the survivors, the three find a small girl Maria who seems to have special needs- she doesn't seem to trust anyone and is very slow to answer. First they think the little girl's condition is caused by shock, but soon they realize she has some sort of a mental disability. It not entirely true whether Maria was always that way or was her condition caused or made worse by bombing. Maria doesn't want to leave their side. In piety, the three kids take Maria with them. This is the little family as it started. A sad family, a family of orphans, with the leader being a teenager Tulio.
As the events in the novel enfold, there is one more important character introduced. An idealistic youth who having lost both of his parents escapes from school. That would be adolescent Daniele. He is even more lost in this world than the other protagonists of this novel, having less contact with the harsh realities of the world. His psychological portrayal and development is wonderfully done. Daniele is taken in by the group (Carla, her boyfriend Tulio and Giulia). It is Tulio who takes him in. Despite the fact that Daniele cannot contribute financially, they look after him and share the little they have together. There is something touching about reading about a group of children taking care of one another. The descriptions are quite realistic and descriptive. The writer makes it easy to image this broken war society where a group of children becomes a family of sorts. Moreover, these four protagonists are so well portrayed and their actions make sense. Daniele wants to work, but finding work is nearly impossible even for someone who isn't a runaway adolescent by. If Daniele is found, his cousins will send him to the some boarding school. Carla's the bold one, but underneath it all she has a kind heart. Carla's love is dominated by her love for Tulio, she's willing to do everything for him. Tulio, on the other hand, is ruled by his ideals. Tulio makes use of Giulia for his cause, he is a young man consumed by a need to fight for a cause. Still, at the same time Tulio cares for Giulia. Giulia is the sensitive one, a pure soul that seems to be holding everything together, saintly character.
I won't go into what happens next because I don't want to reveal the plot or the ending, but I think you can get the idea of what kind of novel it is. I think the novel's chief literary merit rests upon the psychological portrayal of its young characters. The characters are so well developed and realistic. The story itself is quite interesting to read. It doesn't always move quickly, but it is fascinating to follow. The inner life of the characters and their relationship with the others is really at the centre of this novel. Even if these four characters and their interaction takes most of the space, it is their interactions with other minor characters that reveal us bits from the outside world. As far as the society described, as chaotic and bleak as it is, there are little moments of humanity that shine, as for example when the soldiers decided to help Daniele and give him a ride and a pair of gloves when he was freezing. There are always little moral victories that give the reader hope in face of all the difficulties. So, it is not just a bleak description of a difficult time, it's more an examination of what it is to be human in such conditions. Moreover, the novel is at times wonderfully philosophical. There are few philosophies and cultures coming into conflict as the character of Daniele is introduced. Some characters represent the old world, some the present one and some are a promise of a new world. There are some interesting dialogues and minor characters that represent different systems of thought as well. All in all, it really is an accomplished novel.
P.S. I didn't actually wear this outfit outside of my home, it was just something I tried on to see how it would look. I do plan to wear this outfit some time in the future because I think it looks cute. All of these items are old, but only the knitted top is vintage (and possibly the white shirt but I'm not entirely sure, I remember my mother adjusted it for me when I was a teen and I added some DIY touches on a number of occasions).
Thank you for reading and visiting. Have a lovely weekend!