Women of Messina by Elio Vittorini (1949, 1964, English translation 1973). I'm not going to pretend that I get all the allusions and layers of this allegorical post-war novel, but I definitely enjoyed it and understood at least some of the metaphors woven into the story.
It is just after World War II and Italy is waking up and trying to piece together a normal life. A group of men, women, and children traveling to nowhere in particular decide to leave their broken down truck and settle into a bombed out village that had been abandoned during the war. They set about clearing the mines from the fields, making communal housing in the half-standing church, and setting up a central kitchen for everyone to use. Gradually other wandering people join the first group, including some original inhabitants of the village. The villagers are successful, although their communal lifestyle isn't without its conflicts and quarrels.
At the same time, the elderly Uncle Agrippa is spending his days riding back and forth on the nation's trains, searching for his only daughter. He is a constant presence on the railroad and participates in conversations and discussions with the other people who wander the country, searching. One of his favorite travel companions is Carlos the Bald, who often entertains him with stories of the isolated villages and unusual characters he meets during his work.
The simple agrarian life of the village is disrupted when Carlos the Bald, a representative of the authorities in the city, starts coming around to the village and asking questions. He knows one of the chief villagers from partisan activity during the war and while his motivations and actions are always a little unclear, his presence is taken as a threat by the village. What really tears things apart, however, are a group of soldiers who come into the village looking to take away one of the men. While they are there, they scoff at the village's bar that serves warm beer because they don't have any refrigeration or even a regular delivery of ice. They pine for the jukeboxes and restaurants and electricity and lights and dancing of the nearby city. The villagers, living in isolation and working hard to maintain their community, have been overlooked by the technological and economic development of the bigger cities. Soon villagers start to leave and seek out the conveniences and obligations of city life, although some stay and continue to live and work in the village.
Vittorini wrote this novel in 1949, but wasn't happy with it. He pulled it from publication and spent the next 14 years revising it, until it was re-released in 1964 (and then translated into English and published here in 1973, after the author's death). This has the feeling to me of post-war Italian movies, lit by stark sunlight and framed with half-fallen walls and women pushing wheelbarrows. The author shows an obvious love for his country and his Communist ideals here, as well as some harsh criticism of the fallen Facist government and encroaching capitalism. While the themes and the metaphors are pretty dated and temporal, there is also an affection and interest in humanity and the ways we reach out to and interact with each other that gives this novel a freshness and universality that it might not otherwise have. It's also often very funny! A somewhat challenging read, but absolutely worth it.