The Ragazzi (Ragazzi di Vita) by Pier Paolo Pasolini, (Trans. by Emile Capouya). Publ. Carcanet 1986. Original Italian text published in 1955.

Caused a ‘scandal’ when published in 1955 because of its depiction of a Rome few Romans, or Italians generally, wanted to see depicted. It’s the story of Ricetto, a boy from the slums with few prospects of a career other than petty thievery and spells in jail, and his friends similarly placed. There is no ‘plot’ in the sense of a constructed series of events leading to a conclusion. There is a series of events but they flow naturally from one to another rather than being ‘constructed’. And there is no ‘conclusion’ other than Ricetto fades out of our view with the conclusion of the last chapter, like he would in life itself. The whole feel of the book is part documentary, part real-time narrative and you really do get the sense of moving around with these youngsters from place to place in a Rome you could map out accurately from the directions given by Pasolini. I’ve never read a book so topographically accurate (besides Ulysses!) and exact in its descriptions and I can say that because I know Rome a little and can follow the boys in some of their journeys around the city.

Whatever be its ‘category’ as work, as a read it is compelling. This was a ‘lost generation’: the children no one cared about, especially in a post-war Rome where politics was not just corrupt– It embodied corruption. Pasolini’s descriptive skills are astonishing. The overall impression is that of an obscene waste of human potential. The underclass he describes is firmly trapped in poverty and an easy prey to death, through disease or violence, with spells in prison along the way.

Uncompromising stuff.


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