1 May 2020

Ignazio Silone – politician and author

Socialist leader became famous for anti-Fascist novels


Ignazio Silone was a founding member of the Italian Communist Party in 1921
Ignazio Silone was a founding member of
the Italian Communist Party in 1921
Writer and political leader Ignazio Silone was born Secondino Tranquilli on this day in 1900 in Pescina dei Marsi in the region of Abruzzo.

Tranquilli became famous under the pseudonym, Ignazio Silone, during World War II for his powerful anti-Fascist novels and he was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature ten times.

Silone’s father, Paolo Tranquilli, died when he was 11 and he lost his mother, Marianna, and other members of his family four years later in the Avezzano earthquake of 1915.

Two years afterwards he joined the Young Socialist group of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), eventually becoming their leader and editor of their newspaper Avanguardia.

He was a founding member of the breakaway Italian Communist Party (PCI) party in 1921 and became one of its covert leaders during the Fascist regime, editing their newspaper in Trieste, Il Lavoratore.

His brother, Romolo Tranquilli, was arrested in 1928 for being a member of the PCI and died in prison in 1931 as a result of the severe beatings he had received from the Fascist police.

Silone went to live in Switzerland in 1930 where he declared his opposition to Joseph Stalin and was expelled from the PCI.

Silone's Abruzzo Trilogy won him acclaim as a novelist
Silone's Abruzzo Trilogy won
him acclaim as a novelist
He suffered from tuberculosis and clinical depression and spent nearly a year in Swiss clinics. While recovering, he began writing his first novel, Fontamara, under the pseudonym of Ignazio Silone, which was published in German in 1933.

After the English edition was published by Penguin Books in 1934, the Spanish Civil War and the events leading up to World War II increased the attention on the novel, which was about the exploitation of peasants in a southern Italian village and how they were brutally suppressed while they tried to obtain their rights. It became an international sensation and was published in 14 languages.

Silone’s later novels, Pane e vino (Bread and wine) and Il seme sotto la neve (The seed beneath the snow) portrayed socialist heroes who tried to help the peasants by sharing their sufferings in a Christian spirit.

The US army printed versions of Fontamara and Pane e vino and distributed them to the Italians during the liberation of Italy after 1943. Together with Il seme sotto la neve, they formed the Abruzzo Trilogy.

During World War II, Silone was the leader of a clandestine socialist organisation operating from Switzerland supporting resistance groups in German-occupied northern Italy. He also became an Office of Strategic Services agent.

A poster advertising the film made of Silone's book, Fontamara
A poster advertising the film made
of Silone's book, Fontamara
Silone returned to Italy in 1944 and was elected as a PSI member of the Italian parliament two years later.

In 1969 he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, an award for writers who deal with the theme of individual freedom and society. In 1971 he received the Prix Mondial Cino del Duca, which recognises authors whose work sends out a message of modern humanism.

Silone wrote ten novels and six essays as well as plays and poetry. A film based on his novel, Fontamara, starring Michele Placido, was released in 1977.

Married to Irish journalist Darina Laracy, Silone died in Geneva in Switzerland in 1978.

In the 1990s, documents emerged that seemed to show Silone had acted as an informant for the Fascist police between 1919 and 1930, causing scholars and biographers to re-evaluate the writer’s political stands and literary work. It was believed he broke away from the police because of the torture they inflicted on his brother.


A plaque marks the birthplace of Ignazio Silone in the Abruzzo town of Pescina dei Marsi
A plaque marks the birthplace of Ignazio Silone in
the Abruzzo town of Pescina dei Marsi
Travel tip:

Pescina dei Marsi, where the writer Ignazio Silone was born, is in the province of L’Aquila in the region of Abruzzo in central Italy. Pescina was badly damaged in the earthquake of Avezzano in 1915 in which Silone’s mother was killed. There were 5,000 victims in Pescina out of a population of 6,000. The oldest part of the town, which was built in the 14th century, was almost destroyed, with only the bell tower of the old church of San Berardo and a few other buildings surviving.

The tomb of Ignazio Silone sits under the bell tower of San Berardo in Pescina dei Marsi
The tomb of Ignazio Silone sits under the bell tower of
San Berardo in Pescina dei Marsi
Travel tip:

Ignazio Silone used the old part of Pescina dei Marsi as the setting for his novel Fontamara. Today, visitors can go to the partially restored old town where Silone’s tomb lies below the medieval bell tower of San Berardo.  His birthplace, one of the few houses to survive the earthquake, is now a museum dedicated to the writer and has some of his manuscripts and original letters.

Also on this day:

1908: The birth of author Giovanni Guareschi 

1927: The birth of actress and jazz singer Laura Betti

1947: The Porto della Ginestra Massacre

1957: The birth of film director Uberto Pasolini


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