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A Bell for Adano ()

Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) (1945)

This is a very funny, but ultimately bittersweet, book.  In the waning days of WWII, Major Victor Joppolo, an Italian American from the Bronx,  has come to Adano, Sicily with the American occupying forces to install a democratic government. His job is complicated by the basic distrust of the thoroughly jaded townspeople, the labyrinthine Army bureaucracy and one particularly bull-headed American General.  The Major gradually succeeds in winning over the townspeople even as he becomes obsessed with the effort to replace the 700 year old town bell that the Fascists melted down for bullets.  His final success comes at a great personal cost, but he leaves the town of Adano a significantly better place than he found it.

The simple idealism that Joppolo brings to his task is very appealing, here is his address to the town officials when they have been trying to cut to the front of the breadline:

    Democracy is this: democracy is that the men of the government are no longer the masters of the
    people.  They are the servants of the people.  What makes a man master of another man?  It is that
    he pays him for his work.  Who pays the men in the government?  The people do, for they pay the
    taxes out of which you are paid.  ...

    Remember:  you are servants now.  You are servants of the people of Adano.  And watch: this
    thing will make you happier than you have ever been in your lives.

This is a noble sentiment and must have been especially resonant when the book was published.  But there is a little too much of Opera Bouffe to the portrayal of Italians.  Mussolini and Fascist Italy may be easy to parody, but the people of Italy should not be totally absolved of responsibility for allowing the regime to rise and endure.  The oppression of their own government aside, they were also somewhat culpable for the crimes of their allies, the Nazis.  This criticism aside, the book is very amusing and can easily stand toe to toe with the more pretentious novels of WWII.


Grade: (B+)


John Hersey Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: John Hersey
    -ESSAY: A Rare Discovery on the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”: The head librarian at John Hersey High School, in Illinois, uncovers a piece of journalism history. (Erin Overbey, 8/26/21, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: ‘Fallout’ Review: Hiroshima and After John Hersey’s pro?le of six survivors of the A-bomb blast, published 74 years ago today, has lost none of its horri?c power. (Edward Kosner, Aug. 31, 2020, WSJ)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Bio (John Hersey High School)
    -The Pulitzer Prize Thumbnails Project: 1930-1949
    -Pulitzer Prize Winners
    -The Top 100 Works of Journalism In the United States in the 20th Century (NYU School of Journalism)
    -Publication of Hiroshima in the New Yorker (bio & info on the story)
    -REVIEW: of Hiroshima (John Toland, NY Times Book Review)
    -Bio (John Hersey High School)
    -The Top 100 Works of Journalism In the United States in the 20th Century (NYU School of Journalism)
    -REVIEW: of THE CALL     (Eva Hoffman, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE CALL (Robert McAfee Brown, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: The Call by John Hersey (John K. Fairbank, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW; of FLING And Other Stories John Hersey (Vance Bourjaily, NY Times Book review)
    -REVIEW: of BLUES By John Hersey. (Verlyn Klinkenborg, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Algiers Motel Incident by John Hersey (Edgar Z. Friedenberg, NY Review of Books)