A dying man’s mostly finished novel reflecting back on the previous 100 years in Italian government, culture, politics, and ideas. This novel begins with the introduction of an Italian prince in the 1860s looking out over his domain and thinking on the political rebellion of Garibaldi that seeks to overturn the regional principalities and aristocracy in order to unify as a nation state. So the novel then looks at this significant and inevitable change through the small day to day dealings of this prince, his nephew who joins Garibaldi, his daughter who is seeking her own kinds of independence and other scions of the old order.
It’s a beautifully written and translated novel that a clear sense of the fading natures of empires. And so while the novel takes on about 100 years of history (not exactly narrating the contemporary moment, but clearly noting that the view of Italian history is coming from this modern perspective) it is small in scope. It makes the argument that nothing creates permanence through myth and storytelling, and the myths of the past are just as ephemeral, and therefore, you cannot in fact write an epic novel. And the result is a novel that understands that something is breathing its last breath. And it’s not defeatist at all, simply resigned. It shares some sensibility then to Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity and Joseph Roth’s The Radetsky March which both lament the upcoming death of the Austrian empire, and instead focus on the view after — not so much a particular kind of hopeful view, but that there will be an after.