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Sergeant Romano’s siege
like in a movie
Brigands and Piemontese at Gioia del Colle after the annexation by the House of Savoy (1861) in Marco Cardetta’s latest novel. The pages written by the young author from Puglia steeped in evocative emotion and dramatic instinct by Sergio D’Amaro
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   Sergente Romano by Marco Cardetta (LiberAria, 170 pages, € 12) might seem, at first sight, to be the latest in a long line of narrative essays inspired by the epos of brigandage in post-unification Italy. The theme is irresistible, to be honest, and its appeal is like that of the Wild West in a sauce of bloody Civil War to an American writer – funnily enough, set in the same time frame (1861-1865) as the Italian developments following on from the annexation by the House of Savoy. On the other hand, it is objectively difficult for an author, especially one from Puglia, to compete with the success of Raffaele Nigro’s novel, I fuochi del Basento, which won the Campiello prize in 1987 and which has become the reference work for anyone who wants to deal with this theme.
   Cardetta, however, has succeeded in carving out his own special space in a particular period of brigandage, by highlighting the two months (June and July 1861) that decided the fate of the town of Gioia del Colle, besieged by the band of men under Sergeant Romano, previously called Pasquale Domenico Romano, a former officer of the Bourbon Army faithful to the last king of Naples, Francesco II (alias Franceschiello), who was determined to get rid of the Piedmont flag. Cardetta’s talent lies in applying his instinctive theatrical and performance experience to the work, since his polyhedric background embraces cinema and music, thus enabling him to recreate that particular event and draw out the voices and images of a vivid set.
   So we are witness, also thanks to the parallel countermelody of documentation from the period that he supplies us with at the end of every chapter, to the agitated weeks running up to the siege carried out by Sergeant Romano. The author becomes a reporter, he records the dialogues, the emotions, the oaths and the gestures of these strange twin souls resembling Billy the Kid and Jessie James, locked into their violent choice and desperately ready to commit whatever atrocity, far from the light of any form of pity. The remarks they make are bitter, cutting, scabrous like the land they are living in, and their language twists itself into an expressionistic dialogue that is so tense as to break up any communicative diplomacy.  
   Cardetta, who commits himself to the role of the bard of the people, unrolls the scenes of the drama as they unfold day by day, identifying with the events as they hurry on, and giving these creatures back enough life to enable them to shout out their exhausted dignity. There is no intention to celebrate them or absolve them, there are no Neo-Bourbon claims, just an evocative expression of emotion and anthropological reflection. There is also the frolicsome touch of the author, or rather the director, when he (auto-) ironically jokes with the reader and the editor, amazed by the audacity of ideas and writing, in the appendix. Sergeant Romano, dead at thirty years old in 1863, is undeniably cast in the role of the loser, but Cardetta is fascinated by that halo of the hero’s fatal incarnation in a predestined lost cause. A tale like this can do without the gilt of rhetorical literature.
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