"Not All Bastards Are from Vienna." Andrea Molesini recreates the hamlet of Refrontolo after the rout of Caporetto

Andrea Molesini
It is always a pleasant surprise to realize how fiction and reality mixed together lend new significance also to the history of the First World War. This is the case of Non tutti i bastardi sono di Vienna (“Not all bastards are from Vienna”, Sellerio, 2010), the first narrative book of Andrea Molesini. Already known as author of work for young readers and translator (Walcott and Pound, among others), Molesini was awarded last year for this “opera prima” with the Premio Campiello. A Spanish translation is already available (Entre enemigos, Lumen, 2011) and a German and English one are to be expected.

The book draws inspiration from the discovered diary of Molesini's grandaunt, Maria Spada, who reported what occurred in the time between the rout of Caporetto and the end of the conflict in the hamlet of Refrontolo, situated in the Venetian region a few miles north of the Piave line. Starting from this historical factum, Molesini sets the story at Villa Spada, occupied by the Austrian Army in October 1917. This is where the protagonist, the seventeen years old Paolo, lives with all other characters: his skilled grandmother, his eccentric grandfather, his proud yet sensitive aunt, but also the wise cook Teresa and her silly daughter Loretta, the guard Renato – an agent of the Italian intelligence – and the young Giulia. Through Paolo's eyes, Molesini portrays the consequences of the First World War on the “microcosm” of Villa Spada and, by analogy, its well-known consequences on the civil society: violence and horror, rape and vengeance, fear and hate, famine and desperation, destruction of all social orders and moral values. The life behind the front line becomes for Paolo and his family not only a constant effort to survive under the enemy's occupation and his abuses of power, but also effective cooperation to the allied Resistance – cooperation which leads to a tragic end of the story, stressing so clearly that war knows no heroes or winners, only suffering human beings. Yet, in the whirlwind of those tragic days, Paolo discovers also the value of all essential things of life – friendship, love, family and compassion, even the importance of the landscape –, which brings dignity to human beings even in times wasteful of human life like WWI was. The well documented historical background is thus interwoven with the personal experience of the protagonist and his progressive awareness of the tragic contradictions of human existence.

The narrative skill of Molesini, who plays on the everlasting contrast between tragic and comic of life, shows great ability in tracing the psychological nature of the characters, especially the female characters, and in describing with great realism places and facts, providing a powerful five senses’ perception of the war. This is the strength of Non tutti i bastardi sono di Vienna: a war novel and a “Bildungsroman” at the same time, it not only presents a valuable historical account of specific events, which many publications have fully described; but it is also compelling at a personal level, enabling the reader to feel how common people tried to survive the Great War, in a way that only literature can do.

Update about the translation rights of this book: the German translation will be available within shortly by Piper (München), while the French edition will be released by Calmann-Lévy. Readers from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia will find this book in the Atlantic Books catalog next year. The translation rights were sold to Norway, to the Netherlands and to Slovenia.