M: Son of the Century: A Novel

Written by Anne Milano Appel (trans.) Antonio Scurati
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Benito Mussolini prepares to speak to a small group of people in Milan’s Piazza San Sepolcro on March 23, 1919. His eyes have been opened. The Great War has set the stage for realignment: “those who were and those who will be.” He recognizes the future belongs to him and others like him.

M: Son of the Century follows Mussolini from that speech in the early days of fascism to the one he makes before the Chamber of Deputies in Rome asserting his supreme power as prime minister in 1925. The narrative comes from many perspectives: those of fascists and their supporters, such as poet and WWI hero Gabriele D’Annunzio; socialists like the so-called Lenin of Romagna, Nicola Bombacci; and the king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III.

Already an international bestseller, M has been translated into 40 languages. It is also highly prized. The novel won the most prestigious Italian literary award, the Strega Prize, in 2019.

The language is exquisite, descriptive as well as lyrical. Characterizations are multilayered and complex. Observations of people and places are insightful. This is not an easy read, however. The writing is often dense with detail, and while historical details add resonance, they at the same time tend to slow down the action. Many of the characters are unfamiliar, leading to interruptions in reading to resolve the question: just who is this again?

The popularity of the novel attests to its relevance. In these complex, dangerous times, readers seek understanding. M, the first of four novels about Mussolini from author Scurati, lifts the veil that hides the disaffected, their smoldering resentments, and the violent paths they choose.