Then, now and beyond: Dino Buzzati as a contemporary writer


As a young student I didn’t read much. I do remember the books I had to read as homework but removed any plot from my mind. One of them was Dino Buzzati‘s “The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily” which I believe would make a great movie, especially with today’s cinematic effects. The novel is not set in a specific time, and mixes reality with fiction: there is and has never been a Grand-Duchy of Sicily and (obviously) bears don’t talk. Basically, the story revolves around the invasion of Sicily by a group of starving bears, led by their king, Leonzio (translated as Leander in English). In addition to this motive, the king is also driven by the personal desire to find his long-lost son Tonio (Tony), who was captured by hunters years before. Despite the difficulties, the king and his army get to the heart of the city and finally find Tonio performing for the Grand-Duke at the local theatre, where Leonzio rescues his son in the end. But it’s in the ending that one finds the ultimate moral message of the novel: in an equal society where humans and bears coexist, the king’s chamberlain is the element of evil. He starts robbing, gambling and plotting and this character has the duty to show how power does corrupt. The question posed by Buzzati is very simple: once we get peace, will we be able not to turn it into a reason for war?

Published in 1945, “The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily” has clear analogies with the time it has been written in: there is war, there is a moral question, there is drama. Magic is used as a device to change the course of events, a factor Buzzati left behind for this first novels. Both “Barnabo of the Mountains” (1933), “The Secret Of The Old Wood” (1935) and “The Tartar Steppe” (1940) deal with real-life characters who happen to live real-life situations. The magic, the fantasy is only suggested or slightly conveyed in the force of the elements surrounding these lonely characters. What starts with the collection of short stories “The Seven Messengers” (1942) finds a full accomplishment with the release of “The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily“, where magic is not subtle, fantasy is real, concrete, life altering.

Often branded as “existentialist“, Dino Buzzati’s work shows us that he managed to escape the barriers of time and space with his own creations. Has corruption disappeared? Is war a thing of the past?
The greatest writers know how to turn a moral message into symbols and metaphors and once the process is done, their work is preserved in time and becomes accessible to future generations aswell. That is why I believe Dino Buzzati’s work needs to circulate more, find new meanings of expression, find a space in our times. If one decides to read one of his novels, then it won’t be long before they reveal themselves to be timeless.

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