Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Last chance: summer reading

By Leila Marie Lawler ( articles ) | Aug 28, 2003

Summer reading is supposed to be light, I guess, so The Red Horse really doesn't qualify  but you can't read it any other time  it's just too long! So haul all 1000 pages of it off to the beach with you for that last summer weekend. You just have to read it!

Thomas Fleming said in his review, "if you put off buying and reading this book for five years, you will have only yourself to blame." That's what made me pick it up. I know what kind of book you blame yourself for not having read earlier: there are only a few, and they are very precious. This is one of those books.

Eugenio Corti answers questions you didn't even know you wanted to ask in this wonderful narrative. For instance, why were the Italians fascists? How could they make common cause with the Germans? What did they do in WWII? Why did they embrace communism after the war? What happened to their Catholic faith? Why don't they have children?

Following four or five men through the beginnings of war until some of them grow to middle age, Corti brings to bear first-hand knowledge of the long retreat from the Russian front, the workings of Soviet POW camps, the doings of the Germans, the struggles of the partisans, and ultimately the inability of the veterans to convey the truth of what they had seen and experienced to their countrymen.

Corti, with great artistic skill reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn, contrasts the northern Italian Catholic village of the protagonists with the horrors of what they endure in the war. Where Solzhenitsyn is the old-testament prophet displaying the sins of totalitarianism, one by one, Corti is an evangelist, making real the Catholicism that alone can withstand the forces of evil. In The Red Horse we see through his eyes what a true Catholic response to evil had been and could be, and we see how the evil comes to power through the abandonment of Catholic ideals and practice.

Corti deftly incorporates spiritual realities in his narrative-- only a true genius could believably write of torture, cannibalism, guardian angels, and Rosaries all in the same prose form. His men are virtuous, with qualities we had forgotten men could display.

There's more. Corti shows how Marxism triumphed even as its bellicose component seemed to have lost. In their repudiation of fascism (itself a form of socialism) Europeans accepted Marxist assumptions, destroying the institutions that had formed the foundation of their culture, and by extension, our American one: the family and the Church. Looking now at our educational system, for instance, which actively promotes any and all forms of rebellion against parents, tradition, and indeed nature (as in the differences of the sexes), one could hardly imagine how the Soviets could have asked for a better implementation of their goals. If we want to understand where we are now, Corti's work would be indispensable even if it were not highly readable.

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