San Nicandro, Histoire d'une Conversion, by Elena Cassin
Around the time that Mussolini decided to inaugurate a policy of official anti-Semitism, a community of peasants in the South Italian town of San Nicandro suddenly abandoned the Catholic faith, and—though they had never had any previous contact with Jews—proclaimed themselves Jews and began to observe the commandments of the Torah, finally emigrating, after the liberation of Italy, to Israel. Elena Cassin’s book is a brilliant attempt to explain this small but puzzling mass conversion with the help of historical, sociological, economic, and psychological analysis.
San Nicandro, Mlle. Cassin points out, lies in one of those depressed and backward areas of Southern Italy which are the victims of an incredibly ancient system of land tenure, a pastoral economy that in some respects has remained unchanged for thousands of years, and an unfortunate political history. All these factors have combined to foster a pattern of frustration, discontent, and despair that periodically finds expression in violence or in odd individual decisions rather than in the kind of social action which is characteristic of other depressed regions.
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