Memory of the Abyss

Written by Marcello Fois Patrick Creagh (trans.)
Review by Lucinda Byatt

Returning home late one night, Felice Stocchino and his young son, Samuele, are refused a glass of water at a neighbour’s house. It is an act that the neighbour and his entire family will pay for in blood. This is Sardinia, in the early 1900s, where honour is everything. Fois was born in Sardinia and is one of a gifted group of Italian writers known as “Group 13”, who explore the cultural roots of their various regions. His descriptions are intensely evocative, and nature is at the heart of the violent legends of his homeland, deeply imbued in memory and folklore. Samuel’s mother knows, even before he is born, that her son has a heart shaped like a wolf’s head, a murderer’s heart. While still a boy, he is saved from death by a juniper bush huddled against the steep rock walls of a ravine. He is found by Mariangela, who later becomes the only woman he ever loves.

Fois follows Stocchino through the North African campaigns of 1911–12 and later to the Carso Front of the Great War where the Italian army becomes entrenched for years against the Austro-Hungarian troops. Stocchino has a peculiar affinity with the bayonet, indeed any knife blade: his skill as the agent of death, almost inviting his victims to impale themselves, becomes legendary, as does his seeming immortality. These wars are just the prelude to the bloodbath that then follows back in Arzana.

Fois recounts these violent events in a style that rivals the parched ground of the Sardinian hills. Memory of the Abyss is both a story of the darkest side of human nature, “the snarl of vengeance”, and an evocation of the immortal figure of the outlaw in Sardinian history and the price of honour.