Giuseppe Berto: One of the fruits of war, that people should feel so alone and desolate
From The Sky Is Red (1947)
Translated by Angus Davidson
The old man raised his eyes, which were calm and sorrowful. He noticed that Daniele was still standing, close to the armchair. “Sit down,” he said.
Daniele turned and sat down again on the camp bed and started looking out of the window. A piece of sky could be seen, with white ridges of cloud across it, and it might be that the weather would change. Quite suddenly the old man began speaking, and it was clearly an effort for him to say the things that he said. Daniele listened, gazing all the time out of the window.
“You feel so hopeless now,” said the old man. “You feel utterly hopeless, as I do. But there’s a difference between us, because you’re young and it’s not right that you should lose all hope. And so perhaps it’s not a bad thing that you should go away. Later, you can come back, or go to Rome, or stay in some other place, but in the meantime, by moving about, you’ll find the strength to get over this present moment. Great strength is needed to go living, because it’s not only you and I who are desolate; everyone is in the same position as we are, alone and desolate, and no one can give use any help. This is one of the fruits of war, that people should feel so alone and desolate and should find no support in anyone.”
Daniele listened without moving, and it seemed to him that the words came and piled themselves up belatedly in his mind. Nevertheless he grasped their meaning.
“But humanity cannot continue along this evil path,” went on the old man. “Surely some day it will rediscover itself, and then a greater good will come to all men, to the poor and to the rich, to those who have lost and to those who have won. I think of these things continually, and I’m certain that a better time will come. I don’t know when, but it will come. And if I myself haven’t the strength to reach that moment, it doesn’t matter. But you must reach it, you and all those like you who are young and have goodness in your hearts. You must not allow yourselves to give way. You have your mission in the world, to see that men become better, and forget violence and hatred, and learn to forgive the evil they have done to each other.”
“I haven’t done evil to anyone,” said Daniele. “Nor had Giulia. And Tullio stole simply to help other people, simply and solely for that. And yet they’re dead.”
“The evil is not in you or me,” said the old man. “It’s in all men together. And we all have to suffer for the evil of all, even those who are in no way to blame.”
“It’s not right,” said Daniele.
“I know,” said the old man. “But there’s no remedy for it, except only to wait. This is a mixture of evil and good in men. When they get tired of the evil, perhaps the good will emerge. This is the faith that one must have in humanity. It’s nothing very much, a faith like this, but one must at least have that; at any rate you young people should have it, and you should do what you can do for the times that will come.”