Thursday, August 25, 2022

Review: We Want Everything, by Nanni Balestrini


We Want Everything, by Nanni Balestrini. Translated from the Italian by Matt Holden. Introduction by Rachel Kushner.

We Want Everything is the fictional memoir of a nameless Italian man who participates in a strike at the Fiat Mirafiori plant in Milan in 1969. Over the course of the book's pages, the narrator changes from someone who just wants to earn enough to make it to summer to someone thinking deeply about the relationship of work to consumption, from making a living to making a life.

The book caught my eye after watching season three of the HBO series "My Brilliant Friend," which also touches on the rise of unions and labor struggles in Italy around this period. The story is simple and simply told and the tensions and issues feel very contemporary. He details working conditions in the plant and how workers' lives are impacted by the pay in proportion to the cost of rents, large families and migration from southern Italy to Milan and the factories of the north.

One thing that I found surprising was the role of unions. Far from being allies to the workers, Balestrini's narrator presents the union as almost the enemy- not exactly in league with management but not really serving the interests of the workers on the ground either. 

Stylistically the story is laced with repetition especially towards the end which only serves to heighten the tension and underline the issues at play. It was not the most exciting reading at all times but I wanted to see how the protests and riots and strikes and everything would work out. There are no individual characters to really latch on to or care about; the book reads like a mood piece more than a vivid point-to-point narrative. It's about a class war rather than the fates of individuals.

I'd recommend it to readers interested in labor issues or Italian social history of this period.

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