Vital Signs

Eugenio Corti

The fame of Italian writer Eugenio Corti hinges on two works: I piu non ritornano: Diario di ventotto giorni in una sacca sul fronte russo, inverno 1942-43 (Most Do Not Return: Diary of Twenty Days in a Pocket on the Russian Front, Winter 1942-43) first published in 1947, and his great 1,280-page novel Il Cavallo Rosso (The Red Horse), published in 1983.

In print continuously in Italy and with sales measured in tens of thousands of copies, I piu non ritornano has for its epigraph the sentence of the Evangelist Mark: "Pray that it not arrive in winter." In fact, the catastrophe that brought agony and death to 80,000 Italian soldiers occurred in the hardest winter of World War II, in the bend of the Don River in Russia. Corti's account, based on his diaries written on slips of paper during the retreat from December l942 to January 1943, constitutes an Odyssey of the Italian soldiers, fighting men transformed into "poor Christs" [in English we say "poor devils"—a significant difference?].

The strength of Corti's writing revealed in these diaries was an indication of his future literary fortunes. They offer, even to today's reader, vital matter for meditation; as is always the ease, when humble people are sucked into the vortex of total war, the truth emerges with greater clarity—as clear as it is terrifying in the description...

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