Calvino professed to be fascinated by the world of adolescence – that in-between time, McLaughlin writes, where “a sense of failed initiation hangs over everything, a sense of thresholds not crossed”. The author regarded Into the War as a “polemic against the habitual image of adolescence in literature”, and all three stories attest to the potentially magical, transformative space of adolescence, however thwarted by the environment of war and Fascism. Calvino’s note to the trilogy points out that his “entry into life” and the Italian “entry into war” coincided. Throughout the book, the hyper-aware narrator senses the incoming storm, but he is too preoccupied with girls and peer pressure, too distracted by the circus atmosphere of Fascist politics, to confront this reality directly. After all, Calvino was no D’Annunzio, the Italian poet who led a group of Legionnaires in laying siege to the city of Fiume in the First World War; he was more the heir of Baudelaire, a flâneur thrust into a Fascist Youth uniform.
more from Joseph Luzzi at the TLS here.