Magazine article The Spectator

A Publishing Terrorist

Magazine article The Spectator

A Publishing Terrorist

Article excerpt

A publishing terrorist Joseph Farrell SENIOR SERVICE by Carlo Feltrinelli, translated by Alistair McEwan Granta, L20, pp. 464, ISBN 1862074569

The names employed in this book are themselves a refreshing enigma. The title refers, for no good reason, to the favourite cigarette of the subject, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, who gave his name to the publishing house he founded, before becoming Italy's proto-terrorist under the name Osvaldo. This pseudonym may have been suggested by nothing more substantial than a neon hoarding blinking in his eyes when he made the choice. The author, Giangiacomo's son, was christened Carlo Fitzgerald Feltrinelli, a name which prompted speculation in communist circles that it was an unexpected act of homage to the then American president. Carlo offers no enlightenment, and may not even know.

However, the name recalls that other Fitzgerald who wrote that the rich are different, and certainly no life story so deeply reinforces that view. In all the phases of Giangiacomo's life, as poor little rich kid in the years of Fascism, as Marxist in Milan in the postwar years, as publisher during Italy's economic miracle and finally as urban guerrilla in the early Seventies, he was dogged by the accusation that his activities were merely the hobbies of a wealthy dilettante.

His son struggles to find any coherence in his father's life, and quite far into the book writes of his temptation to send `Giangiacomo Feltrinelli to the devil and go off for a pizza'. Apart from the early chapters, which are a bit of a mess, he writes with bafflement, restraint and insight. He describes his father's and childhood, reserving his special bile for the matriarchal mother, Giannalisa, and Luigi Barzini, author of the much admired book, The Italians. Barzini was Giannalisa's second husband, but he and Giangiacomo plainly loathed each other. Perhaps Carlo, Giangiacomo's son by the third of his four wives, understands painful childhoods since he was only ten when his father blew himself up on an electricity pylon he was trying to sabotage. Not surprisingly, but rather pathetically, he writes that he has few `domestic memories' of his father.

Born into the highest echelons of Milanese capitalism, Giangiacomo became a Communist after the Liberation when to be a party member was a matter of bon ton. His background meant that he was accepted only tentatively, but he had money and was prepared to disburse it generously for the causes espoused by the party. …

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