November 19, 2019
Anti-fascist bookstore in Rome burns, days before Venice shop floods
by John Francisconi
Before landing at Melville House last month, I had the great good fortune of managing Bank Square Books in Mystic, CT. I left my BSB family in July, to be the inaugural Bookselling Without Borders Resident at Otherwise Bookshop, a remarkable English-language bookstore in Rome. During my six-week sojourn I visited as many libreria as I could. One shop I’d hoped to see, but couldn’t, was La Pecora Elettrica (The Electric Sheep), an anti-fascist bookshop-bistro a short ride away from the city center.
On April 25 (Liberation Day, a national holiday in Italy, which marks the fall of Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic), La Pecora Elettrica was vandalized and burned by arsonists who, as far as I can tell, were never identified. The owners spent the summer rebuilding and stocking the store, and were planning to re-open on Thursday, November 7. In the early hours of November 6, ANSA reports, La Pecora Elettrica was burned again.
Police said there might be a link between the two fires and one that broke out in a shop across the street last month.
The two stores, which were the only ones open at night, may have been disturbing local drug pushers working in an adjacent park, police said. Lazio Governor and Democratic Party (PD) leader Nicola Zingaretti said the bookstore “is a place of culture and socialization.”
“It was set on fire tonight after last April’s fire,” Zingaretti wrote on Twitter.
“To the owners I say: hang in there and fight to give back to Rome the beauty and passion of your social commitment.”
November 6 was supposed to be a kind of literary holiday in Italy; Elena Ferrante’s new novel, La Vita Bugiarda degli Adulti (The Lying Life of Adults), was set to be feted with midnight release parties. My news feeds, updates from friends and customers at Otherwise and Altroquando, had a few pictures of Ferrante fans, but there were far more posts about the tragedy in Centocelle.
Politicians, authors, and fellow booksellers in Rome have pledged solidarity in response to this second attack. An elegiac poem was taped to the burned store’s door. On the night of the November 6, in the midst of Ferrante Fever, citizens in Centocelle took to the streets to peacefully protest the attack.
I’ll always be honored and humbled by the opportunity I had in Rome this summer. I’d never seen, or even imagined, a place so beautiful. I met people whose day-to-day priorities (family, friends, food) seemed perfectly in line with what matters most to me. At the same time, I was keenly aware of Italy’s tumultuous government, its familiarly grim migrant crisis, and Rome’s buffoonish but admired populist leader. Italians, in my limited expat experience, well earn their reputation for being warm, genial, cheerful people. But the country also, clearly, has a sinisterly reactionary contingent, and its history of violence is ongoing.
We have faith that the Eternal City, like its northeast neighbors, will recover from this heartbreaking setback. And to our comrades at La Pecora Elettrica: Forza!
John Francisconi is the Direct Sales and Operations Manager at Melville House.