The Ravages of War
BY AMA H. VANNIARACHCHY
Wars are devastating. I don’t think Sri Lankans need any more examples for the brutality and devastating violence of war, as we lived in a war-torn country. As a generation that grew up with war, witnessing its venomous stings paralysing the country’s society, culture, economy and environment, living in fear, and the many other horrors of war have deeply wounded our souls. The threedecade bloody war mercilessly destroyed and exploited this little island paradise in every aspect.
Although the war as we knew it is long over, Sri Lanka is still struggling with post-war nightmares. The Italian writer and journalist Alberto Moravia tells the devastating truth of war, how it tears human lives, destroys their dreams and hopes, resulting in creating a group of frustrated, broken humans, in his celebrated novel, Two Women (original title in Italian: La Ciociara). Two Women was first published in 1957 in Italian and it was translated to English and published, first in 1958.
The story in brief
The story is set in Rome during World War II. Cesira, a widowed shopkeeper lives with her 13-year-old daughter Rossetta who is innocent and religious. The war changes the lives of many forever including the lives of the two women Cesira and Rosetta. Cesira, hoping for a better life, leaves Rome, fleeing to her native place, Ciociara, situated in the mountains, south of Rome. Ciociara is not what Cesira expected. It is poor and life is miserable there. People are struggling for survival within the area’s barter economy.
There are thieves that make the lives of people wretched and poor peasants and refugees barely survive in Ciociara. In such a miserable condition, the two women endure all the suffering for nine months, despite the hunger, cold, and filthiness of their surroundings, desperately hoping for the arrival of the Allied forces. Cesira is not concerned about who wins the war; as what she is concerned about is her daughter’s life while longing to resume her old quiet life as a shopkeeper in Rome. However, things never happen in her favour. The liberation brought more horror to the lives of ordinary people including the two women. Cesira and Rosetta are raped by a group of Allied Moroccan forces, while the mother and daughter were returning to Rome, hearts filled with new hope. Tragedy doesn’t end here. The brutal event kills the innocence of Rosetta; she distances herself from her mother and eventually pushes herself into prostitution.
Traumatising horrors of war
This is a tale of a mother who fiercely does everything possible to protect her daughter. On the other hand, it is a tale of women who are struggling against patriarchy. Two Women is also a tale that reveals the reality of wars. Ordinary people such as Cesira and Rosetta are not bothered about who wins or loses; they are struggling with their own lives. No matter who wins, they will suffer. During the peak of the war, no matter how much they have earned, their money becomes useless, food becomes scarce, making almost all of them refugees.
The novel also makes us understand that the destruction of war is not just confined to the battlefield or the lives of those who are directly involved in the war but also breaks down the lives that exist beyond the battlefield. It is shown in the novel that what the masses want is for the war to come to an end, enabling them to resume their usual lifestyles. The irony of the story lies when the mother and daughter, while trying to keep safe, hide inside a church, in which the mother’s worst nightmare becomes a reality.
A group of the Allied forces, brutally, ruthlessly gang rapes the defenceless women. All the attempts and struggles of Cesira throughout her life to keep Rosetta safe from the horrors of the war fall apart. Traumatised Rosetta giving herself into her trauma is all about the killing of innocence. Two Women is based on the actual situation in Italy in the 1940s when the Moroccan troops are said to be responsible for mass rapes and murders of the refugees. The author Moravia and his wife too fled from Rome to avoid the harshness of war, to the country. Hence critics believe he was able to portray the lives of refugees in a heart-wrenching realistic way. The novel, despite being published more than five decades ago, still holds its place as a much-acclaimed literary work due to its universal and timeless themes and the style of writing of Moravia.
Italian writer Moravia was born in November 1907 in Rome, Italy. He was a journalist, playwright, essayist, and film critic. Moravia is considered one of the leading Italian writers of the 20th century and some of his work has been made into famous movies due to their popularity and success as novels. Moravia is known for his work that explores rather advanced themes such as social alienation, modern sexuality, and existentialism.
Critics say that his work also fearlessly criticises the malaise of the bourgeoisie. It is said that he was an atheist. Moravia’s style of writing, although strong and convincing, is noticed for its factual, cold, and precise style. Between 1959 and 1962 Moravia was president of PEN International, the worldwide association of writers. He died in September 1990. “Every true writer is like a bird; he repeats the same song, the same theme, all his life. For me, this theme has always been re volt.” –