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We Want Everything: A Novel

Explosive novel of Italy’s revolutionary 1969 by leading Italian novelist
It was 1969, and temperatures were rising across the factories of the north as workers demanded better pay and conditions. Soon, discontent would erupt in what became known as Italy’s “Hot Autumn.”

A young worker from the impoverished south arrives at Fiat’s Mirafiori factory in Turin, where his darker complexion begins to fade from the fourteen-hour workdays in sweltering industrial heat. He is frequently late for work, and sells his blood when money runs low. He fakes a crushed finger to win sick leave. His bosses try to withhold his wages. Our cynical, dry-witted narrator will not bend to their will. “I want everything, everything that’s owed to me,” he tells them. “Nothing more and nothing less, because you don’t mess with me.”

Around him, students are holding secret meetings and union workers begin halting work on the assembly lines, crippling the Mirafiori factory with months of continuous strikes. Before long, barricades line the roads, tear gas wafts into private homes, and the slogan “We Want Everything” is ringing through the streets. Wrought in spare and measured prose, Balestrini’s novel depicts an explosive uprising. Introduced by Rachel Kushner, the author of the best-selling The Flamethrowers, We Want Everything is the incendiary fictional account of events that led to a decade of revolt.

Read the first two chapters in our free We Want Everything ebook sampler.

Reviews

  • “A fine example of a literary use of expressions that were then burgeoning in factories and mass meetings, caught between student unrest and worker fury.”
  • “In this fierce, compelling novel, Balestrini has found a way to individualise the universal, and universalise the individual, creating a document of the Italian labour struggles of the 1970s that has great value both as art and history. Balestrini becomes a channel for the working-class narrator, who stands for all the Southern masses who come north to the car factories to participate in the Italian ‘economic miracle.’ It’s a book which charted a new course for fiction, one that deserves further exploration.”
  • “We would do well to study how it was that Balestrini made politics and fiction and art, all in once place...one of the most compelling pieces of literature of the entire second half of the twentieth century.”
  • “One of the best novels of 2016 … Nothing could seem further from or more relevant to our historical moment.”
  • “Only Balestrini … has succeeded in reconciling the tragic—epic spirit of the revolutionary movement and the ironic—combinatorial spirit of literary experimentation … [We Want Everything] is probably the most important Italian literary work of the 1960s.”
  • “As demands arise again that echo the demands of the period—less work, more pay, more leisure, guaranteed income—We Want Everything sends a stirring reminder that these are not new demands, and that although it is a new generation rising to the challenge, it is the same fundamental struggle that continues.”
  • “Balestrini was present during the 'Hot Autumn' he depicts in this arresting novel, and he follows the young Italian workers with a clear eye and spare prose.”

Blog

  • Five Book Plan: Literature in Translation by Deborah Smith

    For our latest Five Book Plan, Deborah Smith, award-winning translator and founder and publisher of Tilted Axis Press, shares her top 5 books of literature in translation as part of Verso's Summer Reads 2016 recommendations.

    Her
     translations from the Korean include two novels by Han Kang, The Vegetarian (winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize) and Human Acts (Portobello, 2016), and two by Bae Suah, A Greater Music (forthcoming in October 2016 from Open Letter Press) and Recitation (Deep Vellum, 2017). In 2015 Deborah completed a PhD at SOAS on contemporary Korean literature and founded Tilted Axis Pressa not-for-profit press focusing on contemporary fiction in translation. In 2016 she won the Arts Foundation Award for Literary Translation. She tweets as @londonkoreanist.


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  • Popular Mechanics: How factory revolts inspired a new form of the novel

     

    Rachel Kushner, author of the acclaimed novel The Flamethrowers, examines the historical context of Nanni Balestrini’s We Want Everything, an explosive novel of Italy’s revolutionary "Hot Autumn" of 1969. She also praises Balestrini’s invention of a new literary form, the novel-inchiesta, documenting workers’ struggles in their own voices, which she calls a singular artistic achievement.

    The following is an edited version of Kusher’s introduction to We Want Everything, originally published at New Republic.

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  • Fiat Has Branded Me: A Hot Autumn Timeline for Nanni Balestrini’s We Want Everything

    Nanni Balestrini’s We Want Everything (Vogliamo tutto), published in 1971, captures an explosive moment of worker militancy in Italy during 1969. It is the story of one man, told by a narrator whose experiences are based on those of the worker and militant Alfonso Natella. It is also, however, the collective story of workers from the Italian south who arrived at the Fiat Mirafiori factory in Turin during the 1960s. These workers were described, in approving terms, by the Italian radical political theorist Mario Tronti as a ‘crude, pagan race’. Balestrini’s narrator says of these new workers: ‘The monsters were coming, the horrible workers’ (WWE 65).

    The novel is primarily set during Italy’s ‘hot autumn’ (autunno caldo), a massive wave of strikes between 1969 and 1970 that affected the northern industrial centres of Italy. In particular it is focused on Fiat’s Mirafiori plant in Turin, which by the late 1960s was a powder keg ready to explode. The plant employed 50,000 workers, with an annual staff turnover of 10% and 60% of these workers, like the worker in We Want Everything, came from the Italian south. Introduced to the new discipline of factory labour, these workers soon came into violent conflict with the bosses. Unlike skilled workers, traditional union members, and the representatives of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), they saw no value in work. As Balestrini’s narrator says, ‘When I came to Fiat I believed I’d be saved. This myth of Fiat, of work at Fiat. In reality it’s shit, like all work, in fact it’s worse’ (WWE 82). These workers practiced the ‘refusal of work’: carrying out wildcat strikes and making ‘impossible’ demands, like ‘we want everything’.

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Other books by Nanni Balestrini Introduction by Rachel Kushner