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  • Col freddo nel cuore. Uomini e donne nell'emigrazione antifascista
  • Alan Perry
Patrizia Gabrielli . Col freddo nel cuore. Uomini e donne nell'emigrazione antifascista. Rome: Donzelli Editore, 2004. Pp. 200.

In Col freddo nel cuore, Patrizia Gabrielli admirably investigates numerous letters written by Italian antifascist émigrés in the 1920s and 1930s. In particular, the author demonstrates how women in exile developed a strong sense of their own political and personal efficacy purchased through opposition to fascism. Since they share so many themes and topoi, the individual letters, read today as a whole, speak to a common experience and mass phenomenon. They form a rich tapestry of Italian Resistance memorials.

Gabrielli situates her study—developed from a November 2003 conference held in Arezzo and sponsored by the Archivio Diaristico di Pieve Santo Stefano—in its historiographical context, providing a chronological overview from the 1950s to the present of works that analyze antifascist emigration. Thus, she addresses, among other texts, Garosci's Storia dei fuoriusciti (1953), Colarizzi's L'Italia antifascista dal 1922 al 1940 (1970), and De Luna's Donne in oggetto (1995). Gabrielli also skillfully establishes a critical structure for the examination of personal letters via a review of pertinent Italian studies of epistolography. [End Page 152]

With this framework in place, the author then gleans what individual correspondence writ small tells us of the émigré phenomenon writ large. For example, Gabrielli examines several of the following leitmotifs found in letters penned by emigrants in exile: nostalgia for family and food; loneliness felt for the loss of extended family, children, friends and country; culture shock in adapting to a new country while trying to find adequate social and recreation outlets; the quest to find a communal anchor of solidarity in opposition politics; and the awareness of personal liberty gained in organizing against fascism from afar. As Gabrielli confirms, missives help pinpoint how antifascist political culture abroad, mainly Communist in orientation, became an instrument "per il riscatto collettivo e per l'edificazione di una società nuova radicalmente trasformata nei suoi aspetti strutturali e culturali. […] è mezzo di cambiamento interiore […]. Le scritture dell'emigrazione costituiscono una preziosa lente per approfondire il rapporto tra morale e politica, per esaminare le diverse inclinazioni e gli atteggiamenti dei soggetti" (89–92).

In examining the letters, Gabrielli discusses a few differences between émigré life in France, where a democratic system tended to let immigrants fend and organize for themselves, and the USSR, where an effective state-run infrastructure located and indoctrinated foreigners. Correspondence from the Soviet Union in the early 1930s, filled with hope and expectation, is especially poignant seen in hindsight because of Stalin's purges that killed or imprisoned so many Italian immigrants between 1937 and 1939. Letters give voice to the myth of the Soviet Union in terms of its bounty of social equality, promise of meaningful labor, and guarantees of safety; but correspondence also brings to light how émigrés coped with the Soviet system's false promises and harsh nature. The title of the book, in fact, refers to the prejudicial cultural climate that many Italians in the Soviet Union had to endure: "La sensazione di freddo che le missive trasmettono contrasta con la passione politica che domina le scritture, tanto da delineare una sorta di dicotomia: al 'fuoco nella mente' del rivoluzionario corrisponde il freddo nel cuore generato dal clima politico di sospetto e di terrore […]" (130).

In her last chapter, Gabrielli focuses on several letters written between Mario Levi, Natalia Ginzburg's brother, and several family members, including Natalia herself. The letters provide a valuable portrait of the Levi family during the 1930s as Mario, an ardent member of Giustizia e Libertà, tried to undermine Mussolini's regime from France. Mario's letters depict how he withstood economic hardship, constant surveillance, and fears for his family's safety in Italy and provide us with "un'immagine a tutto tondo di un uomo in [End Page 153] carne e ossa […] animato da una buona dose di anticonformismo che river-sa nella politica e nel proprio stile di vita, così come nelle relazioni parentali e amicali" (151). Mario's correspondence helps to enliven an appreciation for Ginzburg's reminiscences...


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pp. 152-154
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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