Tonight Is Already Tomorrow

Lia Levi, Claris­sa Bots­ford (Trans­la­tor)

  • Review
By – July 26, 2021

The Rimons, the cen­tral char­ac­ters in Lia Levi’s taut and com­pact nov­el, are a Jew­ish- Ital­ian mid­dle-class fam­i­ly liv­ing in Genoa. Father Marc is an émi­gré from Bel­gium, a dia­mond cut­ter; moth­er Emil­ia is a mem­ber of an extend­ed Gen­ovese fam­i­ly, some­what snob­bish and spoiled; and their only child, Alessan­dro, is, at the out­set, regard­ed by his par­ents as some­thing of a genius. Their inter­ac­tion with fam­i­ly, friends, school­mates, and the local Rab­bi, fil­tered most­ly (but not only) through Alessandro’s point of view, could be the stuff of a fam­i­ly TV sit­u­a­tion com­e­dy, with petu­lant Emil­ia, hen-pecked Marc, iras­ci­ble Grand­fa­ther Lui­gi, and cute, but exas­per­at­ing, Alessan­dro. Except that it is 1930s Italy and, as the nar­ra­tor asserts, his­to­ry has oth­er ideas about how this fam­i­ly will turn out.

Mussolini’s pro­mul­ga­tion of anti-Jew­ish laws in 1938 presents a cri­sis for the fam­i­ly. Ini­tial­ly, life goes on, except for annoy­ances such as Alessandro’s ejec­tion from school and Marc los­ing his license to ply his trade. Emil­ia tries to play down the sig­nif­i­cance. It is Italy, after all; laws are always being passed and not enforced. Marc is less san­guine. He has a British pass­port, he reminds Emil­ia, and wants to get out while there’s time. Emil­ia will have none of it. Alessan­dro, in the mean­time, is bewil­dered by the quar­rel­ing between his par­ents and by the wider dis­cus­sion tak­ing place when the extend­ed fam­i­ly meets at the home of a wealthy rel­a­tive. Emil­ia pre­vails for the time being as the net of anti-Jew­ish restric­tions clos­es in on the fam­i­ly. Marc is sent into inter­nal exile” as a res­i­dent alien, but he man­ages to lead a rel­a­tive­ly tran­quil life in a remote vil­lage where fas­cism is large­ly ignored. But, as his­to­ries of the fate of Ital­ian Jew­ry in the Holo­caust tell us, life changed for the worse when the Nazis took wider con­trol of north­ern Italy fol­low­ing the col­lapse of Mussolini’s gov­ern­ment in 1943. The final third of Levi’s nov­el depicts the family’s attempt to flee in the face of a deep­en­ing threat to its exis­tence. The nov­el moves from sit­com to nail-bit­ing thriller.

Lia Levi grew up in wartime Italy and expe­ri­enced the effect of the anti-Jew­ish laws as a child and teenag­er. The sto­ry in this nov­el, how­ev­er, is based on the expe­ri­ences of her hus­band and his fam­i­ly. After the war, Levi spent many years as edi­tor of an Ital­ian jour­nal of Jew­ish themes, Shalom, and turned to writ­ing fic­tion when she was in her 60s. Now 90 years old, she is author of many books for chil­dren and adults, many of which have gar­nered major awards in Italy. Tonight is Already Tomor­row was a final­ist for the Stre­ga Prize in 2018 and was the win­ner of the Stre­ga Youth Prize, usu­al­ly award­ed to books for chil­dren or young adults. This is only her sec­ond nov­el to appear in Eng­lish trans­la­tion. That pre­vi­ous nov­el, The Jew­ish Hus­band, also focused on the fate of Ital­ian Jews under fas­cism. Despite some flaws, such as a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of view points and a some­what creduli­ty-strain­ing con­clu­sion (although some­times truth is stranger than fic­tion), Tonight is Already Tomor­row is a sig­nif­i­cant addi­tion to the oth­er nov­els and mem­oirs of the Holo­caust in Italy, such a Gior­gio Bassani’s Gar­den of the Finzi-Con­ti­nis and Pri­mo Levi’s work.

Mar­tin Green is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Fair­leigh Dick­in­son Uni­ver­si­ty, where he taught lit­er­a­ture and media stud­ies. He is work­ing on a book about Amer­i­can pop­u­lar peri­od­i­cals in the 1920s.

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