(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Christ Stopped at Eboli is the story of a year in the life of a young man whose opposition to Fascism has resulted in his internment in a remote mountain village in southern Italy. The title refers to a saying of the local inhabitants. Nominally, Christianity exists in this poor, rugged, malarial region, but no real message of salvation has ever reached the people. No one comes to the area except for enemies, conquerors, and visitors without understanding. Carlo, a well-educated northerner, belongs to the last category, but during his enforced stay in Gagliano, he grows in knowledge of and sympathy for the villagers.

Carlo has been brought under guard from a larger town which boasts a few shops and amenities, but Gagliano, where the road ends and few vehicles ever come, is much more primitive. He sees a single treeless street flanked by the scattered one-room houses of peasants and a small number of more substantial dwellings of the local gentry. Nearby stands the barracks of the carabinieri, the policemen who loosely supervise the activities of the dozen political prisoners exiled to the town. Gagliano quickly discovers that the newcomer is a physician, although a nonpracticing one, and since the town’s only doctors are the semiretired uncle of the mayor and another man who is both inept and insensitive to the people’s needs, the inhabitants flock to Carlo. Although he lacks instruments, medicines, and practical experience, and would rather spend his time painting, Carlo provides what assistance he can to the peasants, whose ways and outlook on life draw his interest.

Inevitably, conflicts arise. Carlo is patronized by the mayor, Don Magalone, and his family, but Dr. Gibilisco, whose family and the Magalones have carried on a long-running feud, resents the newcomer’s popularity with the townspeople. Carlo tries to keep clear of these...

(The entire section is 766 words.)