A great read of anarchies past and present

‘Cazzarola!’ book review

By Joshua Grant, Columnist


It’s always a risk to try covering too many stories at once, but Norman Nawrocki’s Cazzarola! does so gracefully and semi-coherently. In the novel, substantial bits of historical anti-fascist resistance come together as readers are plunged into a chaotic story of semi-forbidden love between a young Italian student/rocker and his Romani lover.

To the unacquainted, Nawrocki is an artist extraordinaire. Between anarchic experiments in electro, jazz, indie, ethnic, and noise musics, he writes. This is his first novel, for which he’s also produced an accompanying album and a stage show. This, in itself, makes Cazzarola! worth a look.

The novel’sstrength is the juxtaposition of its dual settings. The not-so-subtle parallels that Nawrocki draws between the Italy of Mussolini and the Italy (and European Union) of today are disconcerting. Anti-immigrant sentiment is complicated and, for the most part, he handles the topic well with his simple, agile prose.

Unfortunately, the novel is not seamless and I was drawn out of the flow from time to time. The worst was when it depicts the thoughts of a pro-nationalist senator in an interview with a young black reporter. After asking where she learned to speak Italian (she grew up in Italy), he spends the rest of the interview trying to figure out how he can get her naked. This cartoonish portrayal of “the enemy” felt unnecessarily manipulative. Otherwise, Nawrocki deftly weaves together characters, time periods, fact, and fiction to create a tapestry that’s one-part romance, one-part anti-fascist polemic, and one-part paean to the bravery of anarchists.

As the story draws to a close, the final showdown seems imminent. Then Nawrocki ends it with the literal voice of God echoing through the mountains. Perhaps the story deserved a non-ending, but not the one that it got.

Despite a few flaws, Cazzarola! is a great read.