Edoardo Nesi's new novel, Infinite Summer (translated from the Italian by Alice Kilgarriff), takes place in Tuscany between August 1972 and August 1982, right in the middle of the period known in Italy as the "Years of Lead," a period of social and political turmoil marked by left-wing and right-wing killings and bombings. Knowing a bit of this history gives the novel a feeling of unfolding in an alternate Italy, an Italy of booming growth, expanding global markets for Italian goods, and limitless possibilities.
Infinite Summer weaves together the stories of four characters: Ivo Barrocciai, the expansive, optimistic son of a modest Tuscan textile manufacturer; Cesare "The Beast" Vezzosi, a small-time building contractor; Vittorio, Cesare's young son; and Pasquale Citarella, "a hard-working foreman and house painter from the South." In other words, a representative of the upper, middle, and lower classes.
Ivo has a vision: Build a textile factory on the outskirts of Florence that will be "the envy of the Milanese." The factory must be huge, larger than any factory in the region. It must have two stories. Ivo's own office must be as large as a tennis court and a white Carrara marble staircase must lead to it. As frosting on this cake, an Olympic-size swimming pool must be built on the roof. Ivo's vision includes Vezzosi as the contractor and Citarella as site manager. Because Ivo's goals are so outrageous and because neither Caesare nor Pasquale have any experience in their assigned roles, I expected the enterprise to collapse in a heap of debt and recriminations.
But it doesn't. There are complications, but it won't spoil the book to know that at the end Ivo can enjoy his rooftop pool. Between the first chapter in which we meet eight-year-old Vittorio and the last, we follow Ivo, Cesare, Vittorio, and Pasquale change and grow, picking up insights into Italian life and culture along the way—one of the many pleasures of Infinite Summer.
The book is interestingly constructed. Some chapters are virtually all description, some are all dialogue. Some limit the point of view to a single character, some take an omniscient point. Early in the book, Nesi takes the time to describe in considerable detail a pickup soccer game that includes this:
" . . .The ball—a gnarled, rough, rubber sphere adorned with the word 'Yashin' in honor of the great Russian goalkeeper of the 1960s whom none of the boys had ever seen play—rises so high that Arianna [Vittorio's mother] sees it trace an arch through the sunset burning brightly below the low, distant hills. It's a brushstroke, a satellite, a signature that strokes the sky . . . "
And here is Ivo, persuading Cesare to build his beautiful factory:
" . . . Think about it, Cesare, I'm always abroad selling, and while I'm in Germany, or America, or Japan, or Cape Town in South Africa, my business needs loyal, honest, tireless workers, people who care about the business as much as I do. They're the ones who'll keep it going. I call the shots, of course, but they're the ones who do all the work, and if they aren't any good, if they don't give their hundred percent, if they don't want to stay that extra hour, the company won't go anywhere, you see?"
In one sense, Infinite Summer is a brief for capitalism and global trade. Ivo is able to obtain financing to build his factory, hire and motivate skilled workers, and sell his innovative fabrics around the world. The problems are personal; men—and women—are attracted to inappropriate sexual partners and complications ensue. All in all, a fascinating and convincing picture of a certain time in Italy and an engaging and persuasive portrait of characters who were living through it.