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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 23 August 2006
I came across this book by chance when we were sorting out a vast collection of books belonging to my late father in law. It was a very early Readers Union edition published in 1949 and printed on thin 'austerity' paper within a green linen hardback cover. The book was throughout a rivetting read, describing acutely and sensitively not only the peasants' lives as well as that of the 'gentry' in Gagliano (now Aliano) and Carlo Levi's previous exile village, Grassano. Levi's descriptions of the landscape are fantastic considering the landscape around Gagliano consists of not much more than ridges and ravines, also the stories, seasonal events and customs and supernatural presences - all brought excitingly and humourously alive. Amazingly the solution he suggests for the poverty-ridden south of Italy in the mid thirties is not Marxist dogma but a carefully thought out sustainability scheme more reminiscent of the anarcho-syndicalists of Spain at that time. I've read the book three times - still finding more, and found his paintings done during exile on an excellent website - they are for me as an artist brilliant! What a genius! I 'm following Levi's footsteps and exploring the area this October on foot - it's amazing what a book can do...
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on 27 September 2003
Good things often come in small packages, and in an era where words like 'genius' are tossed casually around it will suprise some that one of the greatest books of the twentieth century should come in the form of a slim paperback as opposed to a phonebook fat epic.
In some ways this is a autobiographical travelogue, though in many ways a million miles away from Bryson et al (as good as they get). The author, Carlo Levi, wrote this while in exile during the period of Mussolini's rule.
Documenting life the peasants of Southern Italy, who were not Christians and therefore not even human for 'Christ stopped at Eboli' it is testament to Levi's brilliance that he makes such unrelenting bleakness so readable. This is not an upbeat book, but it is ultimately a very rewarding one, never pulling punches while showing the innate dignity of a beaten people when confronting a system that is both completely alien and hostile to them.
The book has many lessons for contemporary Italy, for whilst the poverty has disappeared, the problems of those brigand ridden days remain. Read this alongside Lampedusa's magesterial work "The Leopard" for an understanding of Italy that is deeper than a hundred books by Mario Puzo.
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on 13 May 2004
This brilliant book is an account of Carlo Levi’s banishment to a remote village in southern Italy for his opposition to Fascism in 1935. Unless you have gone to “Search inside the Book” and read page three, the title may be a bit misleading: this is not about an incarnation of the deity that alighted in a place called Eboli. Eboli, a town of no consequence to the action of the book, is, rather, the farthest south Christianity (read: civilization) got. Gagliano, the town in which Levi arrives to carry out his exile, is as far south from Eboli as Eboli is from Naples, and is the end of the road in more than one respect.
In Gagliano, Levi lives a somewhat enviable (for an exile, at least) existence painting, writing, and, as a doctor, administering to the sick and injured. But the book is not about Levi’s good works among the peasants. Rather, it is a series of sublime sketches about a people so grim, so primitive, so impoverished, so imbued with superstition and pagan ritual (Gagliano has a village priest, but he’s drunk most of the time) that they seem an alien species. Levi doesn’t so much understand them as observe them and paint them with words.
Levi’s artistic gifts extend to his descriptions, and phrases such as “Grassano…is a streak of white at the summit of a bare hill” make the book come alive. It is clear that Frances Frenaye, the translator, deserves no small credit in this respect. This is a haunting work, and one of the most memorable books I have ever enjoyed.
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on 23 January 2001
I had to write a review of this book because it is a book that can never have enough readers or enough praise. Levi was exiled to the south of Italy by Mussolini, and this is his account of life there, in a culture that had remained tied to pagan ways. Christ stopped at Eboli, and Levi was exiled south of the border.
This is a wonderful book, evocative of the bleak landscape and the heat of Italy's south, of the superstitions of the peasants and the superciliousness of the (supposed) gentry. It is a mixture of diary, reportage, travel book and historical record. The book succeeds largely because of Levi's wonderful, generous personality and fantastic eye for detail among the most abject poverty imaginable.
Go read it, it's unique, and if anyone has ever read anything similar and as good please tell me.
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on 11 September 2002
I approached this book slightly unsure of what form it would take. As it turned out I found it to be an insightful an absorbing account of the author's political exile in Southern Italy. Levi gives an excellent description of life in the area, which is remarkably backward. He paints fantastic portraits of the local characters, and lends many interesting opinions on the politics of the time. And he does all this with the fine prose of a consumate writer and artist - an edition with some plates of his paintings of the area would be an excellent publication indeed!
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on 16 September 2014
A memoir from 1930s at the start of Mussolini's Abyssinia campaign. Levi was exiled as a political prisoner to two remote small towns in Luciana - most of the book is about Gagliano, wind swept and stuck between two ridges on a pale and barren clay.
The clash in civilisations is on several levels; between the gentry and the peasants with the former ruthlessly exploiting the latter who are dirt poor; between the North and South (Levi was from Turin) and between Rome and its remote provinces.
The book ends with a treatise on the remoteness of Rome and a plea for the peasants to be given a stake in their future through more regional autonomy.
The book describes the medical conditions of the peasants (primarily malaria and anthrax), the appalling behaviour of the gentry, the malign fatalism of the church, the superstitions of the community and the fascist politics of the period.
A great read and a real eye opener into conditions of the time.
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on 25 July 2015
After having read Primo Levi heap glowing praise on Carlo Levi I thought it really was time to search out a good starting point for his works. As Christ Stopped at Eboli got such warm praise from the other readers here I thought I really should begin with this.

This book is a fascinating, if at times slightly paternalistic, insight into peasant Italy under the Fascist dictatorship of Mussolini. It gives us a glimpse of an older Italy which no longer exists where the feudal classes were still in control and the influence of American expatriates had not brought about any change in Italy's social balance.

One reader's comments about Anarcho Syndicalism drew me to compare it with Homage To Catalonia (peasants in Feudal Spain as opposed to peasants in Feudal Italy) but I found Orwell's descriptions to be far less sympathetic, far more patronising, and far more obviously from the perspective of an outsider.

Carlo Levi's book is very enjoyable, beautifully written, and from the warmth of his warts and all descriptions; it is obvious that he became a part of the community in which he lived for the years of his political exile.

A truly admirable book and an enjoyable read.
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on 14 May 2007
This is one of those rare books that fits awkwardly into any clearly defined category. I think it's possible for different people to take something different from reading it. I read it whilst living in Italy and eventually spent a few days around Matera in Basilicata. So for me it was almost like a guide book.

Levi manages to convey the people and landscape in a creative and artistic way, but he never gets lost in lyrical descriptive prose. After all, this was no literary retreat; it was an exile from the Fascist state of the time. He constructs a sociological study balanced with a personal and involved portrayal of life in a village half forgotten by the 'civilized' World. The greatest achievement is that he is never patronizing or condescending to the peasants, he is clearly connected to the people but still remains objective.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to understand the great divide between the South and North of Italy. It could also be useful to anybody wanting to study the politics of development and also to people who enjoy high quality literature.
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on 9 September 2015
Re-read this recently prior to a visit to Matera in Basilicata where Levi was exiled as a political dissident by Mussolini. It is a brilliant book in its analysis and descriptive power. It is sympathetic to an impoverished peasant society without ever becoming sentimental or patronising. A great book and necessary reading, even now.
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on 23 June 2011
During a recent tour of southern Italy, our tour guide introduced us to the work of Carlo Levi as background information to a visit to the Sassi caves at Matera. Being unable to find the book in Matera, I was eager to buy it once I reached home. Not only did reading the book give me a far greater understanding of the people of the Sassi caves, it also gave me insight into the wider area that I had travelled through. If only I had know of this book before I went on holiday, it would have provided me with a greater understanding of the great differences between northern and southern Italy which still have repercussions in the present day. I would urge anyone keen to understand the people and landscape of the less travelled parts of Southern Italy to read this fine book before going on holiday.
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