Monday, July 11, 2022

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on "Bread and Wine"

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published in the spring. He has also just published Neumann's Last Concert, the fourth novel in a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, finally,  America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine begins:
Don Benedetto, a Catholic priest in a small Italian village, had “a liberty of spirit and a liveliness of mind that in his station in life were positively foolhardy.” His relatives hated him for “not having the prestige with the authorities that they expected of him and for having been reduced to living like a hermit instead of being able to use influence on their behalf at a time when honest work was of no use whatever in the absence of recommendations and backing in high places.” When his sister arranged a small celebration on his 75th birthday, only two of his former students bothered to attend, one of whom excuses his membership in the Fascist party on the ground that, “in school you dream, in life you have to adapt yourself.” To which Don Benedetto ironically replies, “What? Is that how an activist talks? A Nietzsche fan?”

Don Benedetto is not very interested in either of his guests; he is much more interested in someone who is not there, his favorite pupil, Pietro Spina, a boy who was not satisfied with what he found in textbooks. Don Benedetto still has the essay in which Spina had written, “But for the fact that it would be very boring to be exhibited on altars after one’s death, to be prayed to and worshipped by a lot of unknown people, mainly ugly old women, I should like to be a saint. I don’t want to live in accordance with circumstances, conventions and material expediency, but I want to live and struggle for what seems to be just and right without regard to the consequences.” It does not surprise Don Benedetto that Pietro Spina is a member of the Communist party.

But not a very good member. The party requires total commitment, unquestioning support for whatever the party majority decides, and Pietro objects to this. “I can’t sacrifice for the party’s sake the reasons for which I joined it.” Told that “Breaking with the party means abandoning the idea behind it,” Pietro insists this “would be like putting the Church before Christ.”

This is the key to understanding everything Ignazio Silone, who had himself once been a communist, is trying to say. The Church had promised heaven in life after death; Communism promised heaven on earth. The Church, as the source of revealed truth, spoke with only one voice; the Communist party, the source of the truth about history and what history would bring, had to do the same thing. The question posed by Pietro Spina became more pointed, and more tragic, when...[read on]
About Buffa's new novel Neumann’s Last Concert, from the publisher:
Neumann’s Last Concert is a story about music and war and the search for what led to the greatest evil in modern history. It is the story of an American boy, Wilfred Malone, who lost his father in the early days of the Second World War and a German refugee, Isaac Neumann, the greatest concert pianist of his age when he lived in Berlin, but who now lives, anonymous and alone, in a single rented room in a small town a few miles from San Francisco.

Wilfred has a genius for the piano, “a keen curiosity not yet corrupted by vanity” and “a memory that forgot nothing essential.” Neumann, alone in his room, is constantly writing, an endless labyrinth of questions and answers, driving him farther and farther back into the past, searching for the causes, searching for the meaning, of what happened in Germany, trying to understand what had led him, a German Jew, to stay in Germany when he could have left but instead continued to perform right up to the night that during his last concert they took his wife away.

Neumann’s Last Concert is a novel about the great catastrophe of the 20th century and the way in which music, great music, preserves both the hope of human decency amidst the carnage of human insanity and the possibility of what human beings might still accomplish.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

--Marshal Zeringue