top of page

Writer's Reviews - The Moon and Bonfires: Cesare Pavese

The critical-literary analyses offered by WriTribe are a thousand words long. Each has been compiled with the intention of providing writers not only with a general introduction to the works presented, but also to reveal the added value inherent in each of them.

1,000 words go far beyond mere criticism or superficial praise; they are intended to point you to one or more secret elements, showing you what narrative techniques are masterfully employed by the author of the work in question.

Written with the unique perspective of an author for authors, reviews aim to point out to you what added value you can glean from twenty literary classics. With this in mind, choosing the reading best suited to your need will prove much easier.


The cover of The Moon and Bonfires by Cesare Pavese


The Moon and Bonfires (1950)

Cesare Pavese

The work in brief

La luna e i falò is the last novel written by Cesare Pavese before his tragic death in Turin on August 27, 1950. The story is set in the Piedmontese countryside, in the hills of the Lanche, and tells the story of Anguilla, the protagonist, a man who returns to his hometown after emigrating to the United States before the War of Liberation from Nazi-Fascism. Anguilla had left the country as a young man to seek his fortune, living an adventurous existence until he decides to return to his homeland in search of rest and peace. In the village, however, he is met with suspicion by his fellow villagers who now consider him an outsider.

The narrative starts from the childhood of the protagonist who, abandoned at birth, is later adopted by Padrino and Virgilia, a poor peasant family, and finds himself living with them and their two daughters on the Gaminella farmstead. The narrative continues through the memories that have marked his existence, and Anguilla finds himself increasingly confronted with his past and a sense of guilt that plagues him.

Alongside him in recalling memories is Nuto, his old carpenter friend who had been a father figure to Anguilla and who had always remained in the village, even living through the years of the Liberation War. At this point the narrative makes a temporal leap: we are in the present, and Anguilla, on the emotional pull of her memories, decides to return to the Gaminella farmstead now inhabited by Valino, a violent man, and his family, including a crippled boy named Cinto. Anguilla takes the young man to heart because he reminds him of himself and establishes an almost paternal relationship with him. At this point, however, a tragedy occurs: in an excess of anger Valino kills his family, sets fire to the Gaminella farmstead and commits suicide. However, Cinto manages to save himself by running away from Anguilla and Nuto.


What you can learn from reading this work:

  1. Exploration of deep themes and characterization of characters

  2. The importance of place in a narrative

  3. Example of the realist genre


Cesare Pavese's style and language are characterized by poetic features and his intense writing, in an evocative prose that succeeds in capturing the complexities of the characters and that engages the reader by creating suggestions and images related particularly, in the novel, to a rural and peasant world. Thanks to these narrative skills Pavese succeeds in creating characters who are authentic in their complexity, exploring the depth of their emotions, inner conflicts, and especially their relationships. This is an example of how to succeed in characterizing characters not only inwardly but also in the relationships they establish, both in relation to each other but especially to their surroundings.

It is particularly in the protagonist Anguilla, the narrator, that we find that profound human dimension made up of loneliness and guilt, of the desire for redemption, in the constant search for a lost identity, for that bond with one's land and origins. This is one of the pivotal elements of the entire novel: the representation of a territory, the Langhe and the Piedmontese countryside, and of a period that belongs in its own right to a shared history of our country, the peasant Italy of the first postwar period which, following the Liberation, somehow tries to rebuild itself, to find an identity, but also a peace just as for the protagonist.

This means that even fictional fiction can become a vehicle for knowledge of a precise historical and social context and not just a mere fresco that acts as a backdrop to the events. This is why the novel can be rightfully placed among the most important works of Italian realism, precisely because it authentically represents a piece of the rural world with all the typical dynamics of that historical context. If the choice is to represent as authentically as possible a landscape or an environment the suggestion is to go right to the places, see them, get to know them, and then starting from that experience to make them narrative.



La luna e i falò won the Strega Prize in 1952, and was the last great work of the Piedmontese writer before his suicide. Cesare Pavese was not only an extraordinarily talented writer whose works have had, and still have, a decisive impact and influence on literature and on many important writers, but in his lifetime he actively participated in the cultural and intellectual growth of our country. In addition to his literary and poetic production, Pavese was a translator of great classics of American literature, giving Italian readers an opportunity to become acquainted with these important works. He also collaborated with the publishing house Einaudi, where he met Italo Calvino and Natalia Ginzburg, among others.

One way to learn about and explore the work of Cesare Pavese, and in particular just La luna e i falò, is to visit the places where the writer was born and raised and that inspired his novels: the Langhe and Santo Stefano Belbo. The farming village referred to-and which is never mentioned in the novel-can in fact be traced back to the writer's hometown of Santo Stefano Belbo. Here, in addition to Pavese's birthplace and the museum, it is possible to recognize the very same environments featured in the novel, including the Gaminella farmstead that stands behind the village.

I would like to conclude with a passage from the book, in Anguilla's words, “You know what this age is like. It's enough to see a girl, get into a fistfight with one, go home downstairs in the morning. One wants to do, to be something, to make up one's mind. You don't resign yourself to the life you had before. At this age a square looks like the world, and one believes that's the way the world is.” The moon and bonfires probably managed to go beyond its hills to become a world. Or so Pavese wanted us to believe, in a unique and masterful way.


Copyright WriTribe - All rights reserved

bottom of page