When I first read The Sky Is Red, it reminded me vividly of my own impressions of post-war Italy when I arrived in Naples as a boy from New York in late 1945. I remember the ugly, bombed-out city, the widespread hunger, misery and despair. I witnessed political opportunism, widespread fraud, and violent crime. Even as a boy I understood the heartrending spectacle of otherwise honorable people forced to debase themselves in questionable and sordid activities in order to survive. I remember the gangs of urchins and adolescents roaming the streets, and the conversations of adults of various political stripes who were trying to figure out the best way to restore Italy as a functioning country.
Giuseppe Berto published his novel in Italy in 1947. It depicts in graphic terms the country’s pervasive physical, psychological and moral devastation through the experiences of a group of adolescents struggling to grow up amid the ruins of a brutal war.
Berto is careful not to identify the venue of his story, which could easily be any of the many towns and cities in Italy that had been ravaged. His narrative thus becomes a universal cry of despair and disillusion that quickly struck a responsive chord among the Italian reading public in the wake of World War II.
Berto wrote his book in the United States in the final years of the war when he was a prisoner of war in Texas. Before his capture, Berto had served for several years in the Italian Army, and was certainly familiar with all the ugliness of war. I suspect that his manuscript reflects observations both during that time and when he got back home.
The Sky Is Red focuses more on the lingering effects of war than on war’s direct violence. It is a powerful literary achievement and became a paradigm classic of post-war Italian literature.
Christopher David Costanzo
November 24, 2019