Danilo Montaldi (1929-1975) was a writer, translator and left-wing political activist. He is considered a pioneer in Italian social anthropology. His first book, Milano, Corea: Inchiesta sugli immigrati (Milan, Korea: An Enquiry about Immigration), published in 1960, was about immigration in Milan before immigration became a widely studied topic.
Politics was another of his favourite subjects: his Korsch e i comunisti italiani (Korsh and Italian Communism) and Saggio sulla politica comunista in Italia – 1919-1970 (Essay on the Communist Policies in Italy – 1919-1970) were published in 1975 and 1976, just after his death.
Montaldi also had a deep interest in the fine arts and in 1965 he opened a contemporary art gallery in Cremona. However, it is for the Autobiografie della Leggera that he is most remembered.
Featured reading group title:
Autobiografie della leggera (The Leggera), Einaudi, 1961. Re-issue: Bompiani, 2012.
This is a beautiful 500-page collection of biographies of people living in the Po valley in Northern Italy in the first half of the twentieth century. ‘La Leggera’ is a local collective noun in the Po Valley given to a community living on the edge of legality (for example, poachers or prostitutes), not violent criminals but still outsiders. (The adjective ‘leggero’ in Italian means ‘light’.)
The biographies are narrated from their protagonists’ point of view, so they are first-person narratives reflecting each narrator’s linguistic peculiarities.
Autobiografie della Leggera was intended as the first part of a trilogy about the daily life and culture of the Po valley community in early twentieth century. The second part was about political activists and was published in 1970. The third part was planned to be about peasants, but Montaldi died before finishing it.
Some of the life stories were written directly by their protagonists, others were dictated by them or written by Montaldi in collaboration with them, so the book is an impressive work of anthropology and oral history.