It may strike you as a paradox that Socialist Realism bore its best fruits in the West, safe away, in fact, from Zhdanov’s and Stalin’s cruel grip. But it’s true.
This thought comes to my mind as I’m half way through Vasco Pratolini’s 1947 novel, Cronache di poveri amanti, in a Spanish edition, of course.
Come to think of it, too: I bought this small, simple edition, at quite a discount price. Oceania, the owner of the only Spanish-language bookstore in Tampa, was closing shop at the time and she was practically giving it all away. “You will only have many books and little money,” she was told when she started her business. In a sense, her fate mirrored that of many writers –only she had a larger inventory. I think she retired and moved to Santo Domingo.
But back to Pratolini. His chronicle of poor lovers is the chronicle of a poor neighborhood where Fascists and Communists struggle for its inhabitants’ hearts and pockets. Tragedies take place side by side with more comical events and lovers, though poor, engage in lives of meaningful struggle and even in political pursuits of their own choosing. A dreamy Italian kind of humor runs through all this work I only knew previously from a film I once saw in Havana.
Ironically, Pratolini’s novel follows consistently all the recipes of Socialist Realism, with “positive” working class characters that oppose the “bad” lumpenproletarians and the cheesy exploiters that abound in Via del Corno. It’s amazing that a literary school designed to prosper under Communist rule should flourish and actually reach its literary heights in the very fist of the bourgeoisie.