“My very early life seems like a parody of a Freudian Oedipal case study: I tried to kill my father and marry my mother,” intimates Alexander Stille in “The Force of Things,” a memoir laced with ill feelings for his father, an American correspondent for a major Italian newspaper. Analysis of the family’s conflict overshadows a larger story about blending cultures in America.
Stille’s father began his journalistic career in Italy under Mussolini. He wrote for an intellectual magazine, Oggi, under the pseudonym Ugo Stille, to conceal his Russian Jewish name, Mikhail Kamenetzki. The family had fled Soviet Russia in 1921 and settled in Italy where they became relatively well-off, even with the advent of Fascism. The author’s grandfather, Ilya Kamenetzki, was a dentist, a profession that made him indispensable under any regime. His patients included relatives of major Italian Fascists and a mistress of prominent writer and war hero Gabriele D’Annunzio, who gave him a protective letter.