‘What a miserable age! Even the crimes aren’t worthy of admiration!’ cried the composer Giuseppe Verdi, contemplating his own era. The trouble with the past is that it continually confronts us with our own inadequacy, giving us the feeling that the gods and giants have long ago departed the earth and all reserves of principle, integrity and courage have run dry, leaving only a stale trickle of self-serving compromise. Similarly, Caroline Moorehead’s latest book, about a family made up of fearless, high-minded individuals prepared to defy dictators and suffer for their convictions, offers the reader a sobering experience.
The Rossellis were Italian Jews, members of that cultured and assimilated group that had eagerly embraced the Risorgimento and its promise of a free and united Italy. Although the marriage between feckless gambler Joe Rosselli, son of a Leghorn merchant, and serious, bookish Amelia Pincherle from Venice was doomed to