“Nothing justifies the sadness. Only the devil has reasons to be sad. ‘ The sentence – as the author correctly informs in the final notes – is by George Bernanos. And the devil appears several times in this cycle of novels, now in its eighth episode, which Antonio Monda has dedicated to the city of New York. Each book explores a decade, and one of the reasons for the saga’s appeal is that the fathers or children of various characters appear on the stage at various times. For example, the protagonist of The prince of the world(this is the title of the novel that Mondadori has just sent to the bookstore), Jacob Singer, known as Jake, coming from a family of Orthodox Jews, is the father of Nathan, the mysterious artist who seduces Maria Mancuso into America does not exist, the first chapter of the saga, set in the 1950s; and he is Abram’s grandfather, a Catholic priest with a troubled love life.
These plots increase the charm of the story, but they must not scare: each novel is a story in itself. Another common trait, however, is that fictional characters and real characters interact on the scene. The flow of events is faithful to history, as it went; but another possibility can be glimpsed against the light, at times entirely intended to evil.
In the devil’s territory, the penultimate episode, set in the nineties, it recounted the intrigues woven by men linked to the Bush clan to destroy Michael Dukakis’ promising Democratic candidacy. The prince of the world it is instead set in the 1930s. But it will not escape the most attentive readers that “the prince of the world”, in biblical language, is precisely the devil. And the demonic in this novel, as in the others, can take many forms. For example, an America often emerges fascinated by evil, by Hitler, by Nazism, by racism, by white supremacism. It is the America that Philip Roth imagined launched to conquer the White House in the fateful elections of 1940. It is the America of Madison Grant, founder of the Bronx Zoo, an avid supporter of the supremacy of the Aryan race, author of a bestseller much appreciated by the Führer ; and it was in a cage in the Bronx zoo that poor Ota Benga, the pygmy who gives the title to another novel by Monda, was exhibited in the early years of the century.
The apparent complexity of the joints is resolved on the page in a very enjoyable reading, in which nothing is as it seems. Because this time to take on a demonic face is a legendary figure of democratic America: Joseph Kennedy, the founder of the dynasty. His three sons will become the pillars of the Democratic Party in the last decades of the century; yet the father – businessman, financier, producer, smuggler, supporter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – cultivates anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi ideas. And in the book authentic documents are cited, such as the report drawn up by Joseph Kennedy on the occasion of his trip to Germany, and his letters to his children.
The plots of the novels should never be told. Suffice it to say that Jacob “Jake” Singer, a fictional character, works for Sam Warner, one of the founders of the American entertainment industry, convinced that the only two companies that are certainly destined not to fail are entertainment and funeral services; but that the first activity is definitely more glamorous than the second. But Warner dies suddenly, and Jake puts himself in the service of Joseph Kennedy. One of his first commitments is to attend a meeting with Madison Grant, the defender of the “Nordic race”, of which the Jew Warner had told him: “He is one hundred percent American and descended from the Founding Fathers, but he personifies betrayal. of everything that represents America ».
Readers the pleasure of following the events of the novel. Just remember that the real protagonist is the city of New York; that Monda knows well, having lived it low and high, frequented in various social environments, explored in his interviews with the greats of cinema and literature with whom he is accustomed and known in his own life experience; because before winning the professorship at New York University (and the artistic direction of the Rome Film Fest) he was the “super”, that is, the condominium administrator who in America must also take care of the cleaning of the stairs.
And so it is to be believed when he writes on a revealing page that “the most revolutionary city in the world is also the most conservative, and those who know New York know that there is nothing strange. There is nothing comparable to the energy of Manhattan, but the New Yorker also experiences the most brilliant and grandiose of novelties as a vulgarization of what previously existed ».
However, in front of the foundations of the Chrysler Building, the protagonist notes: «It is the new world, and I am happy, indeed proud to be among those who believe that the sky can be challenged».
Why, in the vertigo of freedom, of individualism, of vitalism, “here in New York we know that every man can be greater than life itself”.
The book and the author
The prince of the world by Antonio Monda is published by Mondadori (pp. 300, euro 19). The novel is the eighth in a cycle – published by Mondadori and started in 2012 with America does not exist – which the author dedicated to the city of New York. The saga is made up of novels set over several decades in which characters linked to each other recur. Antonio Monda (Velletri, Rome, 1962) has lived in New York since 1994. Writer and journalist, he teaches at New York University and is artistic director of the «Le Conversazioni» festival and of the Rome Film Fest. He made his debut in fiction in 2008 with the novel Absolution, published by Mondadori.
April 2, 2021 (change April 2, 2021 | 08:45)