Books: Arrivederci, Roma

TIME OF DESECRATION by Alberto Moravia; Translated by Angus Davidson Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 376 pages; $12.95

Ancient Rome bestowed laws, roads, imperial machismo, crucifixions, la dolce vita and the drama of decline and fall, the longest-running show in Western history. The city continues to give the impression of crumbling into its own ruins, its reputation as decadence central cheered on by Fellini and Gore Vidal. But like a Verdi heroine dying with a knife in her breast, Rome continues to sing impressively.

No modern Italian knows this role better than Alberto Moravia, who has...

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