By Alyson Barrett-Ryan
When I see the words “griping”, “family” and “epic” next to one another on a book jacket I get nervous. Often, I find that multigenerational family histories fail to provide a connection with any one character, and without that connection, it is hard to find a reason to care about the story being told. Cazzarola! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy somehow overcomes this problem. A screenplay structure early win the book, jumping between present-day scenes and historical events related to the anarchist Discord family, gradually gives way to focus on the present day in the latter part of the book. I barely noticed this transition, and in the modern day story, I found recognizable characters, believable situations and dare I say it, a kick ass gritty love story absent of empty cliches. The way this novel (which, according to the website has toured as a performance) brings awareness to the plight of the present-day Romani living in Italy bay juxtaposing current Italian nationalism and racism with Nazism and racism in the past century is thought provoking, well-researched, and lends a sense of urgency to the political issues at hand.
In the beginning of the book, short sections written from different characters’ points of view introduce generations of Discordias and their friends. From the past, we have grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles, mothers, and even an assassin. The historical slivers related to the Discordias are interwove with short news breeds drawn from the present and past centuries illustrating wave after wave of Italian nationalism and fascism. I will refrain from summarizing the plot, but aI will say that Nawrocki does a really nice job of bringing attention to the current political situation in Italy through historical comparisons, showing that the perils of nationalism are transcendent across borders and throughout generations. There are misguided hopes of the masses” “Mussolini reminded us of our former greatness and gave us hope again! He offered new aspirations to conquer the world…”(128); there are the tendencies for groups to emphasize characteristics that define their belonging, and in doing so, creating the always poisonous “us” and “them”; there are the personal allegiances which draw otherwise intelligent people down idiotic political paths. Highlighting these various plagues of the human condition (or even more specifically, the plagues of group behavior) Naworcki shows how the specter of racism hangs heavy over Rome.
In the present day, we have Antonio Discordia, born ini 1979, finishing his philosophy degree in Rome, recording an album with his band, chronically late to his job in a restraint. Anything sound familiar? He falls in love with an elusive Romani violinist, Cinka, after seeing her busking in the city and their love story is the central element of the novel. As the rings of the story widen, we meet the members off Antonio’s band (his cousin, Rafaele: “Loves reggae. Makes good tomato sauce” and Massimaxo, a friend). I really like these people for many reasons, not the least of which, they cook and eat amazing food, then discuss political issues late into the night, work hard making good music, get hangovers sometimes and their jobs are secondary to the real things that give their life meaning. I’d like to have pasta and beer with them.
Besides the history and politics, there is a lot to respect about this book thematically. I enjoyed the Italian imagery (for instance, the moon described as a sliver of Limoncello). The music, food, flowers, birds, cities and countryside are vibrant and real and served as a constructive showcase for Italian price (contrasted against the fascists’ destructive nationalism). The activists’ meeting scenes entail the chaos of everyone speaking at once, bursting with political passion and ideas. The romance somehow captures the earnestness and insanity of falling in love, while at the same time delivering political awareness, by comparing Antonio’s life as an Italian with Cinka’s hardships as a Romani immigrant. The Discordias’ continued resistance to fascism gives the struggle a sense of hope, reminding us of the importance of historical memory and that positive political ideas can be passed down through generations. Familiar bands and music in general are both ever-present in the book: “He passes the pizza place, the falafel houses… and turns into the coolness of the music store. Here he feels at home, alive, totally stimulated, head to toe” (101). To me, it is everyday, relatable situations like this that make this book fun to read. If there is any criticism to offer, it is that I identified less with the main female character that with the males— her plot line runs a bit predictable. All in all, this is an honest novel that reveals Italian history through an interesting story. Populated with strong history and characters, I recommend it as the anarchist summer beach read (and, I mean that as a compliment.)