BOOK REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATION: THE SKY IS RED BY GIUSEPPE BERTO

Hello readers and fellow bloggers! Today I will share a review of a novel The Sky is Red by Italian writer Giuseppe Berto. Published in 1947, this novel is set in Italy during the Second World War period. Focused on a group of orphans trying to survive the war on their own terms, this novel is a difficult but rewarding read. I would describe it as an accomplished work of literature.  The last book I reviewed was The Diary of Anna Frank, another book set in this historical period. That was a diary while The Sky is Red is a novel, but children and adolescents are in the center of both so I couldn't help comparing them in my mind. The war period is always the hardest for children, especially when they have to be separated from their friends and/or family. I think it is important to always respect the victim and to understand that in World World II there were human causalities and civilian lives lost on all sides. The loss of human life is always tragic, no matter on what side it happens. War is horrible for everyone involved, one way or another. 

Despite the fact that the protagonists of these books are mostly children and teenagers, this book is more suitable for an adult reader, both because the themes it explores and the manner in which they are examined. The descriptions of war horrors and all they entail (the violence, the deaths, the bombing and so on) are at times quite graphic. The basic plot gives you an idea of the novel bleakness. A group of orphans who rather then risking being separated one from another decide to live their lives in hiding, surviving on theft and prostitution of two oldest members (who are both underage). The main breadwinner (for most of the book) of this little 'orphan' family is a fourteen year old prostitute Carla. It is definitely not an easy read. Moreover, the general tone of the book is quite depressive and bleak. The novel is in many ways quite profound, but it is not suited for children and I wouldn't recommend it to most adolescents either. 

 The end of July is upon us and thinking back, I'm really happy I came across this book. I've read a few books this month (reviews will follow soon), but this one was my favourite one, so I'm especially happy to share this review. Despite the profound sadness and the general pessimism of this book, I loved it. If I had to compare it to some other book, it would be Germinal by Zola. The war time poverty described in this novel isn't much different from the poverty of mine workers in Germinal. In both cases, the poverty is so extreme it leads to the deconstruction of society and family. Moreover, both novels feature  one similar character- an idealistic and educated young man with ideals who finds himself incapable of helping others or changing the course of things. In addition, both novels are at times quite philosophical. There are other works of literature I could compare this book to, most of them being works of realism or naturalism. I suppose that this novel could be placed in the category of social realism, but it is not restricted by all the rules of this genre. To me it feels more like realism than social realism but one could argue it has characteristics of both.  Social realism was a movement in literature striving to portray the harsh reality of the poor people's life. It came to life between the great wars, possibly because of general economical depression. This movement avoided any kind of embellishments and romanticism (as did realism, but this one even more so, plus it was more focused on class struggle and workers). Social realism is sometimes confused with socialist realism that was the preferred (and sometimes the only allowed) art movement in several communist countries during Soviet times. This novel was published shortly after the end of World War II and it was supposedly written while the author was a prison of war. As such, is in an example of war literature.
Scroll down to read the rest of my review for The Sky is Red by Giuseppe Berto. 



What attracted me to this book was the title. The name of the author sounded familiar, but I wasn't sure whether I read him before. It turns out that I didn't. I'm not a stranger to contemporary Italian literature (nor to historical one for that matter), but this was my first book by Giuseppe Berto. I'm not sure how well known this writer is in anglophone countries, but there is also a film version of this novel, so I he might be familiar to a bit wider circle of people.  Anyhow,  I pulled out this book from a friend's bookshelf earlier this month. This was back when I stayed for two days with one of my ex-workers on island Hvar. While she was at work, I would read this novel. I found it hard to put down once I started reading it. I was immediately drawn into the story. One more thing I enjoyed was the fact that I read this book in a vintage edition (Croatian translation). I just love vintage books. The design of the cover was done by Fedor Vaić. I looked this artist up and found him in Croatian encyclopedia that describes him as a painter, an illustrator and a graphical designer who mainly illustrated literary texts. He died two years before I was born. It is always great to learn of artists I didn't know of, especially those who lived and worked in my country. This illustration is truly captivating. Having read the novel, I must say that the art on the cover is really fitting. 


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. 


How are you doing btw? I'm doing alright. Yesterday I went to bed early at around 11 pm and I got up at around 6 am this morning. I've used the extra time this morning to catch up with my blogging buddies and to reply to some of my comments and then to work on this post.  Time still seemed to fly by. As morning turned into afternoon, I made lunch. In the meantime, I have been writing this review and putting this post together. That's all I've been up to today. Can you believe it's August tomorrow? Time really flies, doesn't it? I wonder what my favourite book of month August will be.  Do you perchance have any reading recommendations? 

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!

Comments

  1. You write the most amazingly detailed book reviews which give me a real insight to the story. I'm intrigued with how it will end after all the build up The brother's reaction to the pregnancy makes me cross. So much judgment. It reminded me of the hypocrisy of men in Afghanistan taking and sleeping with women but shaming and killing women who are pregnant but whose husbands have died in the war, not believing they could have been married in one of the last books I read, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thank you, I enjoy writing detailed reviews.

      Delete
  2. It sounds like a good read. I am loving the outfit and those heels are gorgeous :-D

    ReplyDelete
  3. It sounds like too much of a tough read for me - I admit I did not read all your review because of the violence warning. I don't like books like this, I find them too sad, I prefer much lighter reads.

    Hope you are having a nice weekend :) We will be at home enjoying this rare summer-like warmth in the middle of winter :)

    Away From The Blue

    ReplyDelete
  4. No lo he leído parece un libro interesante, pero duro. o tendré en cuenta para próximas lecturas. Te mando un beso

    ReplyDelete
  5. The book sounds very complex, sad, and interesting at the same time. I am curious, so I will check if the book is available at the library to put it in my to-read list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I think you might enjoy it as I know you're interested in WW2.

      Delete
  6. As always I am in awe of your detailed and intelligent book reviews. Based on your review, I'd certainly pick up this book were I to come across it, although I do think I'd have to be in the right frame of mind to read it. I'm loving the cover design too. Like you, I love vintage books! Wishing our a great week ahead Ivana! xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Yes, vintage books are the best!

      Delete
  7. Beautiful outfit! Looks like an amazing book, but I hadn't came across it. It makes me think a little of Empire of the Sun, an orphan story to of a boy because of war.

    Glad to hear you are doing OK. We have bad air quality here due to the wild fires and a cold front from the north. So staying in..the best I can. Thanks for the wonderful review.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Such an insightful review. I think it would be hard to get through. I do cry a lot when I read, but I am certain it would be a master piece to read. Love the outfit! Such amazing heels, but I certainly wouldn't go far in them. Very beautiful top too.

    ReplyDelete
  9. That sounds very interesting!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'd have bought that book for the cover design, it's utterly fabulous! x

    ReplyDelete
  11. Such a fantastic review Ivana . Honestly I never even heard about this book before - it is seems to be deep and definitely worth to read position. I have to check translation of them :-)

    Have a lovely week dear xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you dear. I think this book is a classic so there should be a Polish translation.

      Delete
  12. I've just started delving into Octavia E. Butler's novels, and would recommend her writing. I have also recently read a book by Colson Whitehead that was great - his writing is lovely.

    I love the beautiful illustration on the cover of that! I have a book that I bought and kept just because Edward Gorey illustrated it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your recommendations Sheila.

      Delete
    2. A beautiful illustration is a reason enough to buy a book.

      Delete
  13. Sounds wonderful! The cover is beautiful, and I can't help noticing your gorgeous shoes.
    xoxo
    Lovely
    www.mynameislovely.com

    ReplyDelete
  14. Mi piacerebbe molto leggere Il Cielo è rosso e tu sei troppo carina con le treccine!
    Kisses, Paola.

    Expressyourself


    My Instagram

    ReplyDelete
  15. I think this is a difficult reading for me, I don't like to read war books!
    But I must say to you that this book review is a master piece too!! You know how to do it Ivana!!
    Recently I read the italian author Elena Ferrante, another kind of subject but beautiful too!
    And, you look damn beautiful with that outfit!
    xoxo

    marisasclosetblog.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Marisa. Elena Ferrante is great.

      Delete
  16. MAM ITS AMAZING YOURS BLOGS
    I AM inspired yours written
    readmore

    ReplyDelete
  17. When I saw the illustration in the cover on your instagram for the first time, I was so interested in the illustrator. Thank you for teaching about him:) The story seems very shocking, but I would like to read it although I can't find Japanese edition. Anyway your outfit is so lovely! Particular, the knit vest is super cute<3

    akiko
    https://kimonosnack.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

All your comments mean a lot to me, even the criticism. Naravno da mi puno znači što ste uzeli vrijeme da nešto napišete, pa makar to bila i kritika. Per me le vostre parole sono sempre preziose anche quando si tratta di critiche.

Popular posts from this blog

WIWT FOR STROLLING MOSTAR CITY+ A BOOK REVIEW

BOOK REVIEW, DEMONS (AKA THE POSSESSED, THE DEVILS), A NOVEL BY DOSTOEVSKY

FAREWELL TO SUMMER FROM MOSTAR CITY

BOOK REVIEW: YOUTH, A NOVELLA BY ISAAC ASIMOV