A Bell for Adano

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Bell for Adano, by John Hersey

I'm not sure. Meh. Did I miss something? Am I not very insightful? Would I have enjoyed it more if there were illustrations?

This book is set towards the end of WWII European theater. The American occupation has come to Italy, and an American major becomes the de facto mayor for the city of Adano. The people are starving, but what they want the most is their bell back. The town bell rang in the city square for 700 years, but the fascists took it and melted it down for war materiel during their retreat. An Italian-American major, who we are told is a good man but has clear flaws, restores the justice corrupted under the fascists, does what he can to get food to the people, but becomes driven to replace the bell for the people of Adano.

It was interesting reading this from a 21st century perspective. It was written in 1944, so I wasn't able to predict how the book would end. I could easily picture this in my head as a black and white movie with the stock characters. If this book were written today it would have been totally different-- the characters were a bit two-dimensional, but there was no doubt of the America's success in the war and that their good intentions would ultimately benefit the people. One can't help but make comparisons to the Iraq war, which has much more moral ambiguity surrounding it, even among people who believe it was the right thing to do. Maybe I'm left feeling conflicted over this book because I wish America today had the certainty and vision that we had 64 years ago. A lot has changed since then.

Semicolon's review here.