History, fiction, and historical fiction.

In the past few chapters of The Flamethrowers, I’ve been interested in some of the ways that Kushner creates fiction out of real events. It has interested me that she sometimes creates characters like Didi Bombonato, sometimes integrates actual historical figures into her text, such as artists like Robert Smithson and Gordon Matta-Clark, and sometimes creates characters meant to imitate real historical figures, like Moishe Bubalev, who one reviewer calls a “stand-in” for social theorist Herbert Marcuse (http://forward.com/articles/180659/rachel-kushners-the-flamethrowers-arrives-with-a-b/?p=all).  

In Chapter 10, when Kushner creates Moishe Bubalev (p. 171), I began to notice the distinct ways that Kushner uses history in her fiction. I noticed it again in Chapter 15, where Kushner writes, “The pope made an appeal for an end to the violence” (289).  This led me to investigate any actual commentary that the pope made in an effort to stop the violence of the Red Brigades. I found a few newspaper articles from the 1980s.  One from the Glasgow Herald (Scotland) was particularly interesting to me (http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19880308&id=-zhAAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OlkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4908,1924447) because at the end of the article, it mentions that the Red Brigades “smashed a hole in the ceiling of a jewelry shop on Rome’s Via Veneto,” which is a street full of expensive shops. In Chapter 15, Kushner uses the (real) shop Luisa Spagnoli on the (real) street Via del Corso (also a street of fancy shopping) to create a similar crime by the Red Brigades. This interests me because it drives me to research to find out what is fact and what is fiction. I’m curious as to whether the Luisa Spagnoli shop, which, according to google maps, is actually on Via del Corso was actually burned by the Red Brigades. In a small amount of research (searching “Luisa Spagnoli” and “Red Brigades”), I couldn’t find anything that tells me that the event that Kushner describes in Chapter 15 was an actual occurrence, but I did find something in the CBS Evening News archive from September 5, 1977 which seems to say that Luisa Spagnoli was kidnapped by the Red Brigades (http://discoverlibrary.vanderbilt.edu/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=Vanderbilt_University&docId=tvnews254448&fromSitemap=1&afterPDS=true).

I’m not sure that it’s actually very important to know exactly what Kushner created and what she took directly from history, but I’m interested in knowing nonetheless.  I think it interests me because I would love to better understand Kushner’s process while she wrote The Flamethrowers. What did she read in her research, and how did she go about creating historical fiction? Why did she make the choices she did (using some actual historical figures and events, partially altering others, and creating some of her own)? And what affect has each choice had on her novel?

As we read more about the fictionalized events of the radical movement in Italy in the 1970s, I hope to find out more about which events are real, which are fictionalized and how, and why it matters.

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