Italian novelist and critic. The humanity of his work reflects his loyalty to ideals and his belief in the importance of action (rather than theorizing) in helping the oppressed.
Born into the family of a smallholder at Pescina, Abruzzi, Silone was educated in Catholic schools. His lifelong concern with social justice, however, was early and decisively acquired through familiarity with the harsh conditions of the poor peasantry of the Abruzzi. After his mother and five of his brothers were killed in an earthquake in 1915, Silone and his sole surviving brother moved to Rome, where for a time he edited a socialist weekly paper. He became an active communist, making several journeys to the Soviet Union as a member of the Italian party delegation. He and his brother then edited a Trieste political daily, Il lavoratore, which was banned by the fascists. Fleeing arrest, Silone first went into hiding in the Abruzzi and in 1930 managed to cross into Germany, eventually settling in Switzerland, where he remained until after the war (1944), when it was safe to return to Italy. (His brother had been captured by the police and died from beatings received in prison.)
Silone left the Communist Party in 1931, unable to accept a theory that could be twisted to allow even a temporary truce with fascism. From 1956 to 1968 Silone and the critic Nicola Chiaromonte edited the international cultural monthly Tempo presente. While in exile in Switzerland, Silone wrote three novels, a play, and two nonfiction works concerned with fascism. His first novel, Fontamara (1930), the story of an Abruzzi village under fascism, was enthusiastically received and translated into seventeen languages in the year of publication. (This and Silone's other books remained unknown in Italy, of course.) Pane e vino (1937; translated as Bread and Wine, 1962) and Il seme sotto la neve (1941; translated as The Seed Beneath the Snow, 1965) depict an intellectual freeing himself from the deceptions of theory to share the life of the poor in reality. Of Silone's other works, the essays and reminiscences in Uscita di sicurezza (1965; translated as Emergency Exit, 1968) form a coherent intellectual autobiography of the greatest interest.