"The Unseen" by Nanni Balestrini

The period known as “The Years of Lead” in Italy has always interested me, historically speaking, and there are a lot of great books out there on the subject (if you dig around enough, that is) and a few novels based on this era as well. “The Unseen” by Nanni Balestrini is most definitely one of the best I’ve read on the subject. It’s fiction, but when you learn a little about the author’s life and his own involvement in Italian leftist politics in the 1970s, you can’t help but wonder how much of this is drawn from either his own experience or the experiences of those he knew in the movement. 

 

It’s pace is lightning fast, highly experimental - written in unpunctuated paragraphs that read like stream of consciousness. It has almost a musical effect, like a saxophone player inhaling and blowing a line before resting again only to hit you with another great line - one after the other. But it’s not hard to follow and it is surprisingly fluid considering the complete absence of punctuation (your own mind fills them in as you go). It’s sparse, hard, violent prose, following the working class protagonist through his rebellious school years, to squatting, to he and his colleagues attempts to set up a free radio station and just about everything in between. And there’s also his experience in prison, which frames the story, and the brutality of isolation and prison life. 

 

This is not a “glory of defeat” novel by any stretch of the imagination and the final section is absolutely devastating but if you’re interested in this particular topic, you can’t find a better novel that delves deep inside the movement and doing so in a very creative way. If you’ve never read any fiction based on this period of post-war Italian history, this would be the perfect place to begin. Highly recommended. 

 

 

 
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