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This article is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

Alessandro Spina’s Libyan Epic

'The Whole Shadow of Man'
André Naffis-Sahely
Three months after Alessandro Spina’s death in July 2013, Ilario Bertoletti, his Italian editor, published a memoir in which he described his first near-encounter with the notoriously reclusive writer: ‘It was June, 1993. The bell rang in the late afternoon; moments later, a colleague entered my office: “A gentleman dropped by. He looked like an Arab prince, tall and handsome. He left a history of the Maronites for you.’’’ The editor made some enquiries and discovered that Spina had been quietly publishing a number of novels and short stories since the early 1960s which charted the history of Libya from 1911, when Italy had invaded the sleepy Ottoman province, all the way to 1966, when petrodollars sparked an economic boom, exacerbating the corruption and nepotism that eventually paved the way for Muammar Gaddafi’s coup d’état in 1969. It took Bertoletti, who runs an independent imprint based in Brescia, fifteen years to persuade Spina to let him reissue his books, or rather to assemble them into a 1250-page omnibus edition entitled I confini dell’ombra: in terra d’oltremare/The Confines of the Shadow: In Lands Overseas (Morcelliana, 2007), a cycle comprising six novels, a novella and four collections of stories, which Spina, who’d only settled on a definitive structure and title in 2003, summarised thus:

The sequence of novels and short stories takes as its subject the Italian experience in Cyrenaica. The Young Maronite (1971) discusses the 1911 war prompted by Giolitti, Omar’s Wedding (1973) narrates the ensuing truce and the attempt by the two peoples to strike a compromise before ...


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