This tale of Sardinia in the early years of the twentieth century was written by a notable Italian jurist who had grown up in the town of Nuoro, the isolated setting for his novel. Satta had abandoned fiction writing in his youth yet began this largely autobiographical work when he was nearly 70 and on his death it was found unfinished amongst his papers. Published in Italy four years later in 1979 it became a literary bestseller and Apollo believes it deserves a wider audience in this translation by Patrick Creagh.
Don Sebastiano is a notary with seven academic sons and a housebound wife. He is devoted to his work producing legal documentation for the people of Nuoro. There is a large cast of characters, many who appear fleetingly in the narrator’s anecdotes, reviewing the past of this town where change occurs reluctantly, where some still wear traditional costume and to leave suggests the vain hope of looking “for bread made from better things than wheat.” In this highly conservative environment it is the times of change that made the most impact on me, the arrival of electric lights, the sons’ discoveries of world literature and the effects of World War I which forced the young to leave and brought back outsiders and those returning with a different set of experiences which upsets the balance of the town. Even these momentous events are dealt with fleetingly in the course of a shifting narrative which requires considerable concentration. At times I just wanted Satta to linger on certain characters and events to realise their full potential which could have given the novel the greatness it just misses out on. We are, of course, not reading his finished manuscript and had he been granted more time to polish this might have been achieved.
This is a novel of many magical moments which do not quite come together as a whole. It is also rather sombre in tone, when there are moments of hope they are often trampled upon. To leave Nuoro rarely provides the escape anticipated. One man who comes into an inheritance discovers; “Swallows leave their nests because God urges them to, but the man who leaves his home is egged on by the devil.” For him, all ends tragically.
The location (I know little about Sardinia) comes across vividly, the importance of wine to the region is brought to life in some lovely sections, its production provides variety and uncertainty in lives which see little change. The days of a town steeped in tradition are numbered by the early twentieth century and this comes across strongly.
This novel is the third I have reviewed from the newly launched Apollo Classics taglined “the best books you have never read”. The others are “Now In November” and “The Man Who Loved Children“.
The Day Of Judgement was published by Apollo in 2016