Lucio Villari: America amara, 2013, Salerno Editrice, Roma, 118 pages. ISBN 9788884028785


 

The Circolo Berkeley has lately been obsessing on what its British and Americans think of Italy. Fairness demands that the sixty-some million Italians get a word in. Lucio Villari has his say in America amara, subtitled ‘Storie e miti a stelle e strisce’. The professor of contemporary history at the University of Rome weighs up the views of his compatriots on the bumptious latecomer of nations from across the Atlantic. His incisive, short, dense study would merit a review that dug just as deep as the author has. Here the intention is simply to suggest to our members the savor and drift of Villari’s thinking.

It can be be put in the proverbial nutshell if we consider something that happened recently. In a casual talk of the kind the Circolo knows well, an American addressed an audience in the Italian provinces. He began by discussing anti-Americanism abroad and said he agreed with fifty percent of it. Silence, the listeners winced as if the speaker had doubted mother love or pasta made from durum wheat. They were ready to speak for the defence. But of what exactly? Not of Washington’s policies surely, which didn’t seem to interest them all that much. They wanted to defend their dream of America. Villari notes that Italians arguing against capital punishment in America don’t so much attack its proponents there as defend their own Italian dream of America against the shame of death sentences.

We begin to understand what the author meant by ‘stories and myths’ in his subtitle. Mario Soldati’s reflexion of 1935 summed it up: “America is not only a place in the world. America is a state of mind, a passion.“ (“L'America non è soltanto una parte del mondo. L'America è uno stato d'animo, una passione.” America: primo amore, 1935.)

Villari has a chapter heading that asks rhetorically if the United States are not the everlasting plaything of Italians. He notes than in 1940, just a year before Mussolini declared war on the U.S.A., a litterateur declared it a country to love, just as we love our own childhood and a cuddly toy charged with dear memories. Villari goes on to say that the dream of America has not altered despite its dystopian presence in movies and HBO TV series that have become daily fare in Italy. The belief persists that the only possible cause of dissent in God’s Country is social--Hispanics, blacks, the poor and the marginalized. The dream has no room for political or cultural conflicts. Villari adds, “Meanwhile the doubts and perplexities of American intellectuals and artists on their nation’s social and cultural situation reach us muffled and tamed.”

Center-left in politics and an egregious friend of America, Lucio Villari is relentless in his analysis of the dream. Yet at times he seems to be one of the dreamers. There’s ambiguity in his contention that Italians are closer to America than to Germany, France or the UK. They are closer to their dream of America certainly. Germany, France and the UK are competitors and nearby. One can’t dream away his noisy next door neighbors.

Peter Byrne

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