Certain novels are of a place. In the case of The Day of Judgment, that place is Sardinia. Or more specifically, the small city of Nuoro, Salvatore Satta’s home in his youth. I was lucky enough to read this book while travelling through Sardinia and even took the opportunity to visit Nuoro. The small world depicted by Satta is still there, maybe because Sardinia really is its own place, much like Sicily, even if it has been absorbed into Italy. There is something in the soil and seawater and rough-hewn mountains that gets into the veins of the local citizens. Satta knew that all too well and breathed so much life into the characters in this posthumous (and unfinished) book.
Granted, the world of The Day of Judgment is pre World War II, before the fascists but right as socialism begins to creep into Italy and the rest of Europe. So Nuoro has still retained some of its agrarian roots including the constant obsession with land ownership, which builds wealth for some but destroys others. Told as reminiscences from his youth, Satta revives the ghosts from the graveyards of Nuoro and delivers a cast of characters who betray themselves with their own ambitions and beliefs. With a great ear for satiric twists and an effortless flowing style to his writing, Satta weaves together these sad and ironic tales into a beautiful canvas. You walk away feeling as if the author told you the stories while sharing a bottle of cannonau, the dark and dry wine of Oliena just south of Nuoro.
In Satta’s Nuoro, everyone has an axe to grind. As Don Sebastiano — a man more dedicated to his job as a notary and civic honor than his own family — constantly reminds his wife, “You’re only in this world because there’s enough room for you.” This endears him very little to his wife, Donna Vincenza, who pays him back by ignoring him, turning his sons against him, and even stealing money from his coat pockets. Sebastiano’s own brother Don Matteo damns their mutual sibling, Don Priamo, to hell — not for any act of malice, but because the latter had a loving relationship with his wife and was adored by the local peasants. Then there is Don Ricciotti, who feels that Don Sebastiano unfairly obtained the family land of the former in an auction. He’ll stop at nothing to get Lorrendu, the land in question, back, even resorting to running for office as a pseudo-socialist or implicating Sebastiano in muckraking news articles published in Rome. These confrontations, which seem even more hilarious because of the puffed personalities involved, almost always end in a downfall. The schemes never quite go as planned and no one really wins. Perhaps because Satta knew a basic truth which he sums up after the burial of Fileddu, the village troglodyte who was taunted and teased throughout his life, but achieves sanctity once he is gone:
“So it was that Fileddu had his moment of glory, even if it lasted only until the last of the shovelfuls of earth that Milieddu hastily and noisily threw on his coffin lid.”
In the end, even Don Sebastiano’s own retort against his wife comes back to haunt him:
“He did not realize that for all of us the time comes when we are in the world just because there is room for us, and the moment had now come for him.”