Home > 1950, EU Book Tour, Italian Literature, Novella, Soldati Mario > Pellizzari’s change of life

Pellizzari’s change of life

Il padre degli orfani by Mario Soldati. 1950. The orphans’ father. French title : Le père des orphelins.

soldati_orphelinsI’ve mentioned this before but I like to discover new writers through Folio’s 2€ collection. They publish short texts by writers in a 100 pages format. Either the book is composed of short stories or it’s a novella. For me, it’s an opportunity to read someone I’ve never tried without starting with a long book. I picked up Il padre degli orfani because its cover caught my eye. Mario Soldati (1906-1999) is an Italian writer and film maker. His most famous book is Le lettere a Capri, published in 1954. Il padre degli orfani is included in A cena col commendatore, a book composed of three stories (La giacca verdeIl padre degli orfani and La finestra)

We’re in Italy in the 1950s, not far from Milan. The narrator has received a letter relating that his friend Antonio Pellizzari, director of the Scala had quit his functions to start and run an orphanage in his villa in the countryside near Milan. The narrator has known Pellizzari for a long time and although they are friends, he judges him as rather cold, selfish and living a private but scandalous love life. He never married. The narrator wonders what prompted this abrupt change in his friend’s attitude and interests. He decides to go and see by himself. When he visits the orphanage, Pellizzari is rather happy to see him and show him the place. The boys are well-kept, Pellizzari is very committed to his new mission and he hired nuns and a priest to educate the children. He takes care of their schedule, outings, games…The narrator is impressed by Pellizzari’s work, his dedication to his cause but is still puzzled at the sudden change. Deep inside, he doesn’t believe that a man can change that much at that age.

Pellizzari explains with eyes full of tears how a poor and sick little boy on a train moved him so much that he decided to help him. When he eventually looked for him, it was too late, the boy was dead. If Pellizzari had come earlier, he could have purchased the medicine the boy needed and he would have been saved. The orphanage is a way to redemption. Still, the narrator remains sceptical. Just when he’s about to leave and grant his friend the benefit of the doubt, he notices his cufflinks on a side table. The narrator knows that these are his cufflinks as they are a family jewel that was stolen from him a couple of months before. It’s unlikely that his friend has the same cufflinks as him, which means they are his. When he asks his friend where he got them, Pellezzari obviously lies. The narrator confronts him and eventually drops the subject but he’s intrigued and this outright lie confirms that he shouldn’t trust his friend’s good intentions.

The novella focuses on Pellizzari, the narrator and the cufflinks. Who is Pellizzari? Is he genuinely interested in these children? Is his interest selfless? When the narrator describes him in all the years he’s known him, he seems like an arrogant man, not the devoted Christian he is in his orphanage. Has he really changed or has he just switched from one role to another? His lie about the cufflinks ties him to his past and tips the narrator off: Pellizzari is not to be trusted.

It’s an interesting questioning about who we are, who we are in the eyes of others and who we’d like to be. Aren’t we all playing roles from time to time? Pellizzari caught himself in his game. He’s always reinventing himself and for now, he’s set on being a Good Samaritan. The narrator would like to unmask him but is it worth it? Isn’t he actually doing a good job with these children? Does it matter if he does it for the wrong reasons?

And what about the narrator? What pushes him to dig into his friend’s life, to probe Pellizzari’s motivations as if he were an insect under a microscope? Why is he so eager to find flaws in this man? Is it jealousy?

The novella tackles important themes like identity, good conscience and more importantly our capacity to change for the best. Can a selfish man turn into a saint? Are we able to change deep inside? While I think it’s a well written and intriguing story, I liked it but nothing more.

Do you know Mario Soldati? As a film director maybe?

  1. August 28, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Nice review, Emma! Mario Soldati’s name rings a bell, but I don’t think I have read any books of his. The Folio’s 2€ collection looks wonderful. 100 page novellas or collection of short stories – they are beautiful to dip into and get introduced to a writer’s work. I am wondering why Pellizzari stole those cufflinks. It will be interesting to find that out. Interesting to know that the book asks questions on the narrator’s own intentions in exploring his friend’s past. That adds considerable depth to the book. Thanks for this interesting review.

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    • August 30, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      I see you corrected my slip and talk about cufflinks! 🙂
      You need to read the book to discover how Pellizzari got hold of these cufflinks.

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  2. August 29, 2013 at 3:40 am

    No I hadn’t heard of this author. I may have seen a film w/o realizing it. I like to read short story collections for the same reason; it’s a great way to find new author. I think that filmmakers make interesting authors because they can write something that is very visual. Is that true in this case?

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    • August 30, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      Sophia Loren was in one of his films, at least. You may have seen it.
      You make a good point about books written by film makers. I think you’re right. He describes very well the way the children go to promenade, the house and its surroundings, the centre of Milan. Thinking again about the book, you could imagine a camera filming the scene he was describing.

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  3. August 29, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Emma, you gave this story a kinky twist. 🙂 I don’t think you mean handcuffs (menottes) but cufflinks (buton de machette). I wouldn’t have realized it, if you hadn’t mentioned that they are a family jewel and I have a hard time imagining handcuffs.
    Be it as it may. It sounds like an interesting story, mysterious. I have never read the author.
    These books are a bit like the small Penguin books. A wonderful way to discover new authors.

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    • August 30, 2013 at 9:05 pm

      C’était pour voir si tu suivais. 🙂

      It reminds me of the time I mixed German and English and said dick instead of fat. That’s what happens when you write a billet after a long day in the office. And no more crime fiction for me. (That’s where I last read about handcuffs) Thanks for mentioning the slip and I’m going to correct it.
      You’d probably like this novella. I’d be curious to read your thoughts about it.

      I have several Folio 2€ on the TBR. They’re also very light to carry and can be great companions on trains or planes when I can’t switch on the kindle.

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      • August 31, 2013 at 5:01 pm

        It happens to everyone who switches languages. It happens to me when I speak quickly and I get really weird looks sometimes. 🙂

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  4. Brian Joseph
    August 29, 2013 at 11:42 am

    The story does sound like it posses some interesting themes.

    Your lukewarm feelings about the work are feelings that I often have about shorter stories. I often find that the brevity of a story sometimes prevents interesting things from developing.

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    • August 30, 2013 at 9:08 pm

      I do like short stories but not all authors can write them well.
      When I read a short story by Maupassant, I don’t feel something is missing or that the story would have deserved more space to develop nicely. He excels at writing short stories and everything needed is said.

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  5. August 29, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    I was wondering why cufflinks were a family treasure. Anyway, that aside it sounds very good, raises some really interesting questions and ones that can have more than one good answer.

    Not available in English sadly from the look of it.

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    • August 30, 2013 at 9:13 pm

      It could be, if the family were policemen from parents to children. 🙂 OK, I’m stretching credibility there.

      It’s funny how you can see a writer’s fame in a country by the length of his article on Wikipedia when you switch from one language to another. (which I often do to find the corresponding French/English title of a book). Here it is quite long in Italian, medium-long in French and ridiculously small in English. (and centrered on his career as a film maker)

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  6. September 1, 2013 at 1:59 am

    Looked him up on IMDB. Looks as though he directed a version of Eugenie Grandet.

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    • September 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm

      Now you’re going to track down this film?

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