Last night’s wind has left my office windows decorated with little circlets of semi-transparent snow. I look out through them to a snowy landscape, where sky’s edge and land’s edge blend and blur, the only distinct shapes being the steadfast oaks and maples that stand guard along the valley rim. The wind is swirling around the house, sculpting wave-shaped drifts. It’s -16 Celsius, and with the wind off the Bay of Fundy, that, my friends, is cold.
The first few winters we spent in Nova Scotia (this is our fourth), we had successive winter storms, dumping large amounts of snow, followed by sudden thaws and melts. This year, it’s more a matter of “snow on snow, snow on snow,” as Christina Rosetti’s plaintive carol, “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” puts it. So the big excitement is trying out our new snow-shoes–not the old style that looked like truncated tennis rackets, but the new high-tech ones with cleats like dragon’s teeth underneath. Cam’s been out on his, but I’m saving the pleasure. Perhaps for a slightly warmer day.
Speaking of snow: this winter, on snowy evenings by our woodstove with its dancing fire, I have read a couple of novels by Ignazio Silone: Bread and Wine (1936; rev. 1955; tr. from the Italian by Harvey Fergusson II, 1962. New York: Signet Class, New American Library, 1963), and The Seed Beneath the Snow (tr. from the Italian by Frances Frenaye. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1942). I still have to find Fontamara to finish reading this trilogy, but I was deeply struck by Silone’s critique of all political ideologies as paths to salvation. In Bread and Wine, his main character, Pietro Spina, has abandoned his Catholic faith and embraced Marxism, only to find that this political philosophy, appealing as it is in theory, fails to transform hearts and leads to nihilism.
In The Seed Beneath the Snow, the same character begins a cautious rapprochement with the faith, partly through the example of the self-giving of his grandmother, and partly through his recognition of the humanity of a deaf-mute, tellingly called “L’Infante.” The animus against the church in this novel is focused through Fascism, with a central symbol being the attempt of the local Facist leader to convince a village workman to add the fasces to the cross. “I want to start my work at the point of greatest resistance,” the innovator on behalf of the State says. His dialogue partner says simply, “I should like to warn you…that the Cross is something dangerous, a two-edged weapon. You’d better leave it to the priests, who know how to use it” (p. 141). The Seed Beneath the Snow, Silone seems to be saying in this quite wonderfully rich novel, is the faith in Christ implanted in his Pietro’s heart through baptism and early childhood instruction, and nurtured through those few who love him when he is a hunted man. The hope for Italy under the heel of Fascism lies in the seed of faith in the hearts of discounted and disheartened believers. Reading these books now, after the failures of Fascism and Marxism to deliver the utopian dreams they promised, urgently commends a truly Cross-shaped discipleship, like that shown by a few in the novel, as being, still, “the seed beneath the snow.”
I found these novels on one of my serendiptous visits to “The Odd Book,” a rather magical second-hand bookstore in Wolfville (www.theoddbook.ca). What I love about a second-hand bookstore (and this one is especially good, drawing on the libraries of the well-read and well-educated community that surrounds Acadia University and Acadia Divinity College) is that I go in with one idea of what I might want to read, and most often come out with something entirely different. Here I have met writers I have heard about but not had time to read before: P. D. James, and now Ignazio Silone; even more exciting to a book-lover like me, I have found writers I had completely missed: British mid-2oth century writers like Barbara Pym and Storm Jamieson, who join with Elizabeth Goudge and Muriel Spark now in forming a cohort of articulate, thoughtful British women writers I want to explore more thoroughly.
When I know exactly the book I want & which I can’t find at “The Oddbook”, I go to www.abebooks.com for that site’s amazingly powerful, quick connection to many hundreds of independent booksellers. I have yet to search for a title I cannot find there. But when I want to browse, to have the fun of stumbling on someone new to me…it’s an hour in “The Odd Book” that I crave.
More another time…I need to get those snow-shoes on. Or, perhaps, grab a book and put another stick of wood on the fire.