Ignazio Silone

Ignazio Silone

[si-loh-nee; It. see-law-ne]
Silone, Ignazio, 1900-1978, Italian novelist and journalist, whose original name was Secondo Tranquilli. A Socialist and for a time a Communist, he broke with Stalin and supported Trotsky in the late 1920s and thereafter, devoting his writings to attacking Fascism and promoting Socialism without sacrificing human and literary values to his thesis. He fled Italy in 1931, and, after living in Switzerland, he returned to his native country in 1944 to become editor of the newspaper Avanti. His novel Fontamara (1933, tr., 1934) was rewritten after World War II to reflect his matured political thought; an English translation of the second version appeared in 1960. Silone's other works include Pane e vino (1937, tr. Bread and Wine, 1962); La scuola dei dittatori (1938; tr. The School for Dictators, 1938); The Living Thoughts of Mazzini (tr. 1939); Il seme sotto la neve (1940; tr. The Seed beneath the Snow, 1942); Uscita di sicurezza (1951; tr. Emergency Exit, 1968); and L'avventura d'un povero cristiano (1968; tr. The Story of a Humble Christian, 1970). Silone contributed critical and political articles to various periodicals.

See biography by S. G. Pugliese 2009).

Ignazio Silone (May 1, 1900 - August 22, 1978) was the pseudonym of Secondo Tranquilli, an Italian author.

Early life and career

He was born in the town of Pescina in the Abruzzo region and lost many family members, including his mother, in the 1915 Avezzano earthquake. His father had died in 1911. Silone joined the Young Socialists group of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), rising to be their leader.

He was a founder member of the breakaway Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1921, becoming one of its covert leaders during the Fascist regime. Ignazio's brother Romolo Tranquilli was arrested in 1928 for being a member of the PCI, and he died in prison in 1931 as a result of the severe beatings he received.

Opposition to Stalinism and return to the PSI

Ignazio Silone left Italy in 1927 on a mission to the Soviet Union, and settled in Switzerland in 1930. While there, he declared his opposition to Joseph Stalin, and the leadership of Comintern; consequently, he was expelled from the PCI. He suffered from tubercolosis and severe clinical depression, and spent nearly a year in Swiss clinics. As he recovered, Silone began writing his first novel, Fontamara, published in German translation in 1933. The English edition, first published by Penguin Books in September 1934, went through frequent reprintings during the 1930's, with the events of the Spanish Civil War and the escalation towards the outbreak of WWII increasing attention for its subject material.

The United States Army printed unauthorised versions of Fontamara and Bread and Wine and distributed them to the Italians during the liberation of Italy after 1943. These two books together with The Seed Beneath the Snow form the Abruzzo Trilogy. Silone returned to Italy only in 1944, and two years later he was elected as a PSI deputy.

In the course of World War II, he had become the leader of a clandestine Socialist organization operating from Switzerland to support resistance groups in Nazi Germany-occupied Northern Italy. He also became an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agent under the pseudonym of Len.

Following his contribution to anti-communist anthology The God That Failed (1949), Silone joined the Congress of Cultural Freedom and edited Tempo Presente. In 1967, with the discovery that the journal received secret funds from the United States Central Intelligence Agency, Silone resigned and devoted all his energies to the writing of novels and autobiographical essays.

In 1969 he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, a literary award for writers who deal with the theme of individual freedom and society. In 1971 he was the recipient of the prestigious Prix mondial Cino Del Duca.

Silone was married to Darina Laracy, an Irish student of Italian literature. He died in Geneva in 1978.


Italian historians Dario Biocca and Mauro Canali found documents which, they claimed, 'proved' that Silone acted as an informant for the Fascist police from 1922 until 1930. The two historians published the results of their research in a work titled L'informatore. Silone, i comunisti e la polizia. In spite of bitter controversy in the Italian press, Biocca's and Canali's work proved to be substantiated and was reviewed in a positive light by the London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The New Yorker, The Nation, New Left Review and others.

Italian historian Giuseppe Tamburrano, however, maintains that some police documents produced by Biocca and Canali cannot be attributed to Silone.

A 2005 biography by Biocca also includes documents showing Silone's involvement with the American intelligence during and after the World War, ultimately suggesting that Silone's political stands (as well as extensive literary work) should be reconsidered in light of a more complex personality and a deep sense of remorse.


  • Fontamara (1931)
  • Bread and Wine (1937) (original Italian title: Pane e Vino)
  • Fascism - Its Origin and Development (193?)
  • The School for Dictators (1938)
  • The Living Thoughts of Mazzini (1939)
  • The Seed Beneath the Snow (1940)
  • The God That Failed (1949)
  • Emergency Exit (1951)
  • Handful of Blackberries (1952)
  • Wine and Bread (1955 revised version of the 1937 title) (orig. Italian 'Vino e pane)
  • Luca's Secret (1956) (orig. Italian Il Segreto di Luca)
  • Story of a Humble Christian (1968) (orig. Italian L'avventura di un povero cristiano)

Cinematic versions

The Secret of luca



  • Dario Biocca - Mauro Canali. L'informatore: Silone, i comunisti e la polizia, Luni Editrice, Milano,Trento, 2000
  • Giuseppe Tamburrano. Processo a Silone, La disavventura di un povero cristiano, Lacaita Editore, Rome, 2001
  • Maria Moscardelli, La Coperta Abruzzese. Il filo della vita di Ignazio Silone, Ed. Aracne, Rome, 2004.
  • Mauro Canali. Le spie del regime, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2004
  • Dario Biocca. Silone. La doppia vita di un italiano, Rizzoli, Milan 2005.
  • Elizabeth Leake. The Reinvention of Ignazio Silone, University of Toronto Presse, Toronto, 2003
  • Story in The Guardian: breaking news of Silone's role as a spy.

External links

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