Riccardo Bacchelli Paolo Milano - Essay

Paolo Milano

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The French have coined an apt word, roman-fleuve—literally, "a river-like novel"—to define certain works of fiction which are peculiarly rich in subject-matter and longstretched in time. To no other Italian novel of our age could the term be applied more fittingly than to Riccardo Bacchelli's "A Mill on the Po," which is centered around the shores of a powerful river, and traces through three generations the life of a flour-miller's family….

"Nothing New Under the Sun," the third part of the trilogy, is a "choral" novel, with many voices, maybe too many. In a sense, its true heroes are the mills themselves, threatened by social change, as are all those who live around them. Villagers, shopkeepers or workers, they either resist hopelessly the current of history, or try, hopefully but vainly, to hasten it.

The background of the novel is Italy's most restless region—the Po Valley—the nation's cradle of anarchist utopias and socialist stirrings. The little community goes through trial after trial, yet public events are seen only as reflected in private lives. But crimes, dreams and loves are only apparently free, for they all fit into a pattern of which the people themselves are hardly conscious. The author, however, perhaps too much aware of that pattern, discloses faithfully to us the meaning of each personal fate.

Mr. Bacchelli is a traditional writer; that is, one who thinks that "the old world is always new." He also feels that nothing is more patent than its destiny. In other words, he is a novelist who has chosen not to be modern, and therefore prefers to relate rather than to explore. He is nostalgic about the past, yet sure that the future will, substantially, resemble it. His narrative gifts are outstanding, and his fresco of Italian life is a memorable period-piece.

Paolo Milano, "The Currents of Change," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1955 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 11, 1955, p. 5.