OpEd

Adelina - or: poverty as a curse

Lukas Bärfuss is one of Switzerland's most popular writers. He is a political author through and through. This can also be seen in his new novel "A piece of bread". The life of Adelina, the book's main character, is a battle for survival. She shares the fate of thousands of people of foreign origin who came to Switzerland especially from the 60s onwards

Adelina could be Albanian, sometimes the name signals the origin. In the novel "A Piece of Bread" by Lukas Bärfuss, the main character Adelina is Italian, the daughter of Italian immigrants who came to Switzerland from Trieste in northern Italy, a city full of history: the birthplace of the actor of Albanian origin Aleksandër Moisiut, a metropolis loved by the writer Irish, James Joyce, one of the centers of Italian fascism, conglomeration of peoples with Italians, Slovenians, Jews, German speakers. Adelina's grandfather joins the Italian nationalists, then sends his son (Adelina's father) to World War II.

It is not clear in the novel when Adelina came to Switzerland. It can be assumed in the 60s. Indeed, Adelina did not come to Switzerland alone, she was brought by her parents who were seeking their fortune in the Swiss world. Adelina's father is lazy. And sometimes mean: since his daughter is not so talented at school, he despises her, instead of supporting her to improve. From the family, Adelina does not inherit curiosity about the world, about learning, about the organization of life. After her father's death she inherits debts.

Lukas Bärfuss knows what poverty is. He clearly knows "how it is when in a rich society you have little or nothing". Even Bärfuss himself grew up in difficult material and family circumstances, for a time he (over)lived as a homeless person. This origin played a role in his formation as a writer. For years, he has been one of the most political authors in Switzerland with explicit left-wing positions. The world through which Bärfuss goes with Adelina, the character he created, is a world of inequality, of the proletariat and the precariat. Adelina has no luck either in work or in love. In the factory, she performs unprestigious work and receives a salary, which is not enough to survive. Her father's debts hang over her head like a black cloud that cannot be removed. Then Adelina makes a mistake - not the first in her life: she falls in love with Toton, an Italian worker. The romantic hours end quickly, Adelina is expecting a child and Toto does not return from vacation in Italy, even worse: he does not answer the phone. From the factory, Adelina ends up a waitress in a bar. A mother with a child who does not know where to hold him. Where do I leave the child when I work? And why, despite his work, he still can't live with dignity? Are Adelina's personal and family circumstances to blame for her bad luck or social conditions? In the Switzerland of immigrants, especially in the 1970s, social conditions are such that foreigners - workers from Italy, from Yugoslavia (mostly from Kosovo) - are assigned a place: they live in shacks on the outskirts of villages and cities, work in construction or gastronomy, they receive low salaries and save from the morsel of bread to support their families back home.

At the bar, Adelina meets a rich man and for a moment it seems that her life is taking a positive turn, but very soon this acquaintance ends fatally: the rich man, who pays Adelina's debts, one day kidnaps her daughter. Revenge because Adelina abandoned him. Ancestry is not always a blessing. Adelina's story shows the opposite: origin is a curse when you inherit not only debts from the family, but also ignorance. Adelina's curse is not only scarcity, but also lost chances. A teacher discovers craft talent in Adelina, and even tells her that one day she can become an artist. But the teacher leaves after she becomes pregnant, replaced by a teacher who does not care about Adelina's future or art.

In 1973, Adelina is deeply in debt and private debt, while the Western world is shocked by the rise in the price of oil. She can't pay the dentist's bills and the rent, while the rich fear that they won't be able to drive expensive cars if the "oil crisis" continues. In 1973, Adelina goes on a rampage in Italy and ends up with the Red Brigades, an Italian communist terrorist organization. Who is to blame for Adelina's misfortunes? She personally or society? For Lukas Bärfuss, society bears more of the blame.

In an apartment in Milan, Adelina announces, among other left-wing activists, Renato - the author of the novel probably means Renato Curcio, one of the leaders of the Red Brigades. In his lecture to Adelina, Renato says that she is a victim of circumstances, a slave who owns only her body. She has put this property on the market and the market does not enable her to earn at least to feed the child.

How next? The novel "A piece of bread" is part of a trilogy announced by Lukas Bärfuss. In the first half, he leaves no way out for Adelina. Perhaps in the next novel Adelina will have more luck. And Bärfuss less ideological zeal.