(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The story of The Moon and the Bonfire unfolds on three levels of the narrator’s experience. On the first level—that of the present—the narrator has returned from America to his native village. Here he seeks out the old places and friends of his boyhood, among whom is Nuto, now married, a carpenter and local musician living quietly on his own land. It is several years after World War II, when memories of betrayal and death are still fresh and the body of a Fascist, a German soldier, or a partisan may wash out from a shallow grave in the next rain.

The narrator and Nuto renew their friendship, walking about the countryside and stopping at remembered places. Some of the townsmen and landowners are convinced that the narrator has returned from America rich enough to buy their lands, but the narrator admits to being neither rich nor desirous of buying their farms.

On one such visit he meets Cinto, Valino’s son, a lame, sickly boy who becomes fascinated with this man who has traveled to America and has come back in possession of another world. For his part, the narrator takes a liking to the boy, who reminds him of his own youth.

Here, the story reaches a second level of experience—the narrator’s past, a quiet, sometimes lonely boyhood spent in the countryside. These memories form the bulk of the novel, not only complementing and explaining the first level of action in the present but also shedding light on the narrator’s character. His earliest memories are not pleasant: He recounts his painful awareness of being illegitimate, farmed out as a young boy to work on Sor Matteo’s lands, and brought up always just outside the familial unit.

Central to his experience are his memories of Sor Matteo’s daughters and the ultimate unhappiness of their...

(The entire section is 741 words.)

The Moon and the Bonfires Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Fiedler, Leslie. “Introducing Cesare Pavese,” in The Kenyon Review. XVI (1954), pp. 536-553.

Heiney, Donald. “Cesare Pavese,” in Three Italian Novelists: Moravia, Pavese, Vittorini, 1968.

Sontag, Susan. “The Artist as Exemplary Sufferer,” in Against Interpretation, 1966.

Thompson, Doug. Cesare Pavese: A Study of the Major Novels and Poems, 1982.