Bread and Wine

by Secondo Tranquilli

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Bread and Wine is a political fiction novel by Ignazio Silone, published just before the onset of World War II as tensions rose in his native Italy. A work that rallies against fascism, particularly the fascist regimes of Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin, Silone wrote part of it while exiled from Italy. It concerns a Catholic teacher named Don Benedetto who learns that his former student has become a radical anarchist in response to political disillusionment.

The novel begins when Benedetto inquires about Spina, who used to be his favorite student, at a gathering of people from the school where he once taught. He learns that Spina now works to sow political rebellion in Italy. Meanwhile, a doctor named Nunzio Sacca is approached by an old-looking man who turns out to be Spina, who used iodine to give himself the disguise of appearing old. Spina puts on clerical robes and poses as a priest named Paulo, giving advice in a mountain town called Pietrasecca while battling disillusionment about his purpose. Soon, he gains a reputation as a kind of spiritual advisor, but he is unable to radicalize any of the town's denizens.

Eventually, Spina goes to Rome and returns to his undisguised identity. He observes students rallying for support of Mussolini and the war. He befriends a disillusioned student, who is later killed in an explosion while trying to prepare a bomb to destroy a church. He goes around Rome writing graffiti with anti-war sentiments but is discovered by someone who threatens to expose his name.

Paulo returns to Benedetto at Rocca. Both of them concur that the country is in dire straits, but they cannot find a solution. Benedetto becomes more involved in Italian politics and becomes a political target because of his candid voice. At one mass, he is poisoned after someone tampers with the sacramental wine. Paulo, after seeing multiple other friends threatened or dead at the hands of the pro-state forces, flees into the snowy mountains of Italy. His friend Cristina tries to follow in his tracks. The novel ends as she wanders the mountains hoping to reach him; after being driven to exhaustion, a pack of wolves encircles her, and she makes the sign of the cross.

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