In the opening lines of The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, the author paints an almost impressionist picture of the book’s protagonist and his state of mind.
We slip inside Giovanni Drogo’s “lieutenant’s uniform,” which he wears for the first time, and from which he does not find the “expected joy.”
And we catch Drogo at the decisive moment, when he contemplates that his “real life” is about to start.
It’s still dark outside, and he hears his mother in the next room, getting up to say goodbye to him.
And in those precious minutes, he looks back on his harsh Academy days and the sacrifices he had endured to study.
But this new life, like his new lieutenant’s uniform, is a disappointing fit.
And in his heart, he wonders if sacrificing the best years of his life has been worth it.
He knows his past, and he wants to get away from its squalor.
But the present starts with a veiled disenchantment, a possible foreshadowing.
Since, in his heart, he must fear that the future, like his past, will be spent “counting one by one the days to which there seemed to be no end.”
“One September morning, Giovanni Drogo, being newly commissioned, set out from the city for Fort Bastiani; it was his first posting.
He had himself called while it was still dark and for the first time put on his lieutenant’s uniform. When he had done, he looked at himself in the mirror by the light of an oil lamp but failed to find there the expected joy. There was a great silence in the house but from a neighbouring room low noises could be heard; his mother was rising to bid him farewell.
This was the day he had looked forward to for years – the beginning of his real life. He thought of the drab days at the military Academy, remembered the bitter evenings spent at his books when he would hear people passing in the streets – people who were free and presumably happy, remembered winter reveilles in the icy barrack rooms heavy with the threat of punishment. He recalled the torture of counting one by one the days to which there seemed to be no end.”
Opening lines of The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati (translated by Stuart Clink Hood)
(in the original Italian)
“Nominato ufficiale, Giovanni Drogo partì una mattina di settembre dalla città per raggiungere la Fortezza Bastiani, sua prima destinazione.
Si fece svegliare ch'era ancora notte e vestì per la prima volta la divisa di tenente. Come ebbe finito, al lume di una lampada a petrolio si guardò allo specchio, ma senza trovare la letizia che aveva sperato. Nella casa c'era un grande silenzio, si udivano solo piccoli rumori da una stanza vicina; sua mamma stava alzandosi per salutarlo.
Era quello il giorno atteso da anni, il principio della sua vera vita. Pensava alle giornate squallide all'Accademia militare, si ricordò delle amare sere di studio quando sentiva fuori nelle vie passare la gente libera e presumibilmente felice; delle sveglie invernali nei cameroni gelati, dove ristagnava l'incubo delle punizioni. Ricordò la pena di contare i giorni ad uno ad uno, che sembrava non finissero mai.”
Incipit - Il Deserto dei Tartari di dino Buzzati