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Giovannino Guareschi: an Italian journalist, writer, and cartoonist

He who described himself as 'a man of difficult virtue'

As the son of a schoolteacher and a retailer of bicycles with bad business sense, he was born May 1st, 1908 in Fontanelle, where “the Po river is a water snake wondering sinuously in the plains, between large expanses of corn and alfalfa fields”. The birthplace was also the headquarters of the local Socialist Cooperative which on the occasion of Labor Day (May 1st), had organized a political meeting. Then, on that May 1st a crowd of socialists led by a certain Mr. Faraboli (a trade unionist and a perfect shape for what will be a memorable Mayor Peppone of future stories) had gathered in front of the Guareschi house. Upon learning of the child's birth, Mr. Faraboli rushes into the Guareschi house, and looking out onto the balcony overlooking the square below, and holding the newborn in his arms, proudly announces:"Today there is a new companion-socialist!" (but never prophecy proved to be more fake!). The father Augusto, not to be outdone, says: "We'll call him Giovanni as you, my friend. But then no, to avoid confusion, we'll call him Giovannino", so just by this name the newborn has been registered. As an adult Guareschi often joked that a big man of his size was forced to bear the name Giovannino (... which in Italian means Wee John). In 1926 a very young Guareschi was called to work for the editorial office of the local newspaper 'Gazzetta di Parma'. A few years later, after finishing his military service, he moved to Milan since he was offered to enter and then to direct the Bertoldo, a satirical magazine that soon get great popularity, not caring at all about the possible reactions of the dominant fascist regime. In fact, the publication of the Bertoldo ended in 1943, and during the same year Giovannino Guareschi was captured by German soldiers and deported in Germany (after the armistice in September 8, 1943) because of his declared monarchy faith. So he was interned for two years in the camp of Wietzendorf, Germany. It was during his internment in the concentration camp that he wrote his ‘Clandestine Diary’. He collaborated also in the creation of a radio station that became the official voice of the Italian Army prisoners (the IMIs, Italian Military Internees), since the Italian institutions had not committed to make known their history. It is said that at the time of his release from the concentration camp, from the loudspeakers of the camp was spread a poem whose words began with the letters of acronym IMI: Italy My Italy, to emphasize that the dream of all Internees who survived the Nazi savagery was to return home from their loved ones). Returning to Italy after the war (and after many vicissitudes common to many of the veterans IMI), in 1946 he founded the Candido, an Italian satirical magazine very important at that time. During the Italian elections of 1948 Guareschi defended the Christian Democratic Party against Communist Party: the most famous political slogans of those years were belonging to him (eg. "Elector, in the secrecy of the voting booth, not Stalin but God will see you",or the name "three-nostrils" intended for communist militants of which he mocks the obedience prone and blind with the directives of the Party. "The third nostril would be served by way of discharge for the gray matter and access to the directives of the Party"). It was precisely after the publication of the famous cartoons "The Companion with three nostrils" that the communist leader Togliatti apostrophized Guareschi during a political meeting calling him "An idiot multiplied three times three" (as a reply, Guareschi let it know to consider this epithet as a 'coveted recognition').

Day by day, the journalist, the political cartoonist, and the brilliant polemicist had leaved space to the narrator: so in December 1946 was born the magazine "Mondo Piccolo" (“Small World”) with the background of the character figures of Don Camillo and Peppone. These were a small mirror reflecting the torments ofItaly at the time, the murky stories told from time immemorial in the houses, and the tragedies and sufferings of war together with the even more cruel civil war. So come to life the saga of Don Camillo and Peppone, opposing figures of two souls typical of post-war. Don Camillo, in fact, represents the figure of the priest in the country, the anti-fascist smart and respectful of the status quo, while Mayor Peppone is an orthodox communist rather petulant, but basically a good guy. Guareschi's Don Camillo instilled in his Priest and the communist Mayor Peppone a kind of theology of hope, that is an expression of his deep sense of religion that will never become clericalism, but that will not appeal to many clerics at all, despite the clarifications about his thoughts have been expressed on several occasions. The novels with this two characters as its protagonists give the Guareschi an unparalleled popularity also thanks to the film adaptations: he becomes the Italian writer most widely read in the world with twenty million copies sold and translated into forty languages, including Eskimo. The language of 'ground level', the instant style and light-hearted, mocking but indulgent, promoted the prodigious and unprecedented publishing boom. Guareschi has demonstrated the ability to capture the mood, the worries, the pettiness large and small acts of heroism not only of the faithful companions of Don Camillo and Peppone, but of man in general, beyond any ideology or ethnicity. Despite the great popular success, however, the writer Giovannino Guareschi must suffer until death ostracism of the official critics and of the so-called progressive culture, especially for the simplicity of language a bit naive that pervades his writings. For example, the official magazine of the Italian Communist Party, L’Unità, liquidated the announcement of his death with this perfidious epitaph «A writer ever born has died». In those years, in fact,few realized that Guareschi was not a simpleton but "a man of difficult virtue" as he said himself, alluding to his un-compromising morality that was not puritanical rigidity, but went out of the gaze of the mercy and piety. Behind the humorist has always hidden a man who has had to suffer hardships, humiliation, pain and betrayal. Many of his most poignant stories are, in fact, transpositions of real events that have affected his soul into the depths. Examples are the two bitter experiences with prison. In 1950 he was sentenced to eight months in prison for insulting the Italian President Einaudi (the charge part of the publication of cartoons in which it highlighted the fact that President Einaudi loved to recall his highest political position on wine labels Nebiolo of his own production). In 1954 Guareschi was convicted even harder than the previous libel by Alcide De Gasperi, the leader of the Christian Democrat party, under the pretext of having published compromising letters, and after a process with several questionable points (in practice, the only accepted evidence are the statements of De Gasperi affirming the absolute falsity of the letters). Guareschi discounted 409 days' imprisonment in the penitentiary of San Francesco in Parma, where he tried out in poor health. In 1957 he realized one of his old passion by opening a small Café shop in Le Roncole-Busseto, right next to the birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi. For those times, the Guareschi’s Café was perhaps the only public place in the world where, in the window, has been proudly displayed the following funny signal «In this place there is no jukebox»

In1961 Guareschi suffered a first heart attack, however in the following years, also in poor health, he continued to work with various Italian newspapers and magazines. In1968, he suffered a second heart attack that took him to the afterlife leaving a world which was increasingly less recognized: His funeral was deserted by almost all local and national authorities. He rests in the small cemetery of Le Roncole near Busseto. Only post-mortem, and in fairly recent times, the thought and works of Giovannino Guareschi have been extensively cleared.


Notes: for a detailed documentation on Giovannino Guareschi's biography, please consult the official website below.


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