Books: The Powers and the Powerless

HISTORY: A NOVEL by EISA MORANTE

Translated by WILLIAM WEAVER 562 pages. Knopf. $10.95.

Novelists are becoming steadily less audacious. Unlike their 19th century forebears, they rarely offer themselves as omniscient puppetmasters, privy to the thoughts and motives of an entire cast. Attuned to the jet hops of the screen—so the conventional reasoning goes—audiences will shun the long ocean cruises that fiction once traversed. Thus the fragments of 20th century life are all too often rendered in views, not visions.

Will to Live. Against all such trends, Italian Author Elsa Morante, 65, has turned out a supremely unfashionable book. History: A Novel is...

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