Theater of Cruelty

Italian for beginners

Simen Ekern has done almost no other Norwegian authors: Written about political Italy.


[berlusconi] "I think 80 percent of journalists in Italy are left-wing, and they have very close relations with foreign press, all of whom are members of the same club in Rome. I do not give press conferences to foreign press because they only use it as an opportunity to attack me. They do not adhere to what I say or do. They write what they already have in their heads. They understand nothing about ours

justice. "

This is what Silvio Berlusconi, the man who ruled Italy, spoke first for a short period in 1994, then in the years 2001-2006. Always with a conspiracy theory in store, always convinced that the Communists were in cahoots with the darkest of all dark forces. No, we will not forget Berlusconi, we will not forget the Prime Minister who made President George W. Bush appear to be a very eloquent and very polite person. Almost five months after Romano Prodi's coalition won the Italian election, it's time for us – the "Communists" – to light up Silvio Berlusconi's political memory.

Critical obituary

I do not know if Dagbladets Simen Ekern is a member of a Roman club. Nor whether he was bought and paid for by an Italian organization with a secret abode on the far left. What is certain is that one can read Ekern's book as a critical obituary of Prime Minister Berlusconi. The author does what most obituary writers do: He chooses past forms, he writes as if a last earthly sentence is set. He writes as if Berlusconi's further destiny is a matter of life after death.

What is certain is that one can read Ekern's book as a critical obituary of Prime Minister Berlusconi.

"Finally, Berlusconi, reluctantly, had to relinquish the prime minister's seat," we read. "No matter what the political landscape is going to look like, and whatever the political future the man has, Berlusconi had reason to smile after the election. His political adventures were second to none in recent European history. ”

It is possible it is pedantic to dwell on the grammatical nature of a literary work. Equally, it is impossible to get past the fact that grammar, like rhetoric, has a bearing on how readers will perceive the content. This general consideration is not intended as a negative criticism of Ekern's book. On the contrary. It is interesting that Ekern places Silvio Berlusconi in the past. Certainly the author makes use of the present form, both the prologue and some of the book's more or less self-narrative parts take place in the present. But whenever it really matters, every time all the attention is directed to the main character of the book, well then we are asked to look back.

"Berlusconi's fall". This is the title of the book's eighth and final chapter. This is Ekern's project: To describe a political fall that has taken place. A project that, so to speak, demands to be met with questions. Has Berlusconi fallen? Can Italy's richest man fall? Suppose that the election defeat in April was – and is – the beginning of Berlusconi's new "political adventure".

Shy Italy dangers

Berlusconi's Italy is a book one reads with the pen in hand. Not only because one should ask questions, but also because one often has good reason to wonder where in the textual landscape the author is at all times. On the whole, Ekern is restrained, not to mention shy, in portraying himself as Italy's dangers. Why is he in Italy? As a newspaper journalist? As a writer on scholarship? Or should we regard him as a free intellectual, a traveler related to the great Claudio Magris, the author of the Danube?

Anyway: Berlusconi's Italy is a book out of the ordinary. At least in Norway. Where other Norwegian writers see a romantic food and wine country, Simen Ekern sees a major political problem area. Well, for Norwegian readers, the book is definitely Italian for beginners. Not because it is easy, but because Norway is a country that needs such an introductory course.

Reviewed by Leif Høghaug

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