Book review – “Terroni: All that was done to ensure that the Italians of the south would become ‘meridionali’ (southerners)” by Pino Aprile

The history of the south of Italy, as seen from those who were “liberated” by the north

Anthony M. Quattrone

Pino Aprile’s “Terroni: All that was done to ensure that the Italians of the south would become meridionali (southerners)”, published by Edizioni Piemme, is one of those books that could cause a revolution, albeit a peaceful one, if read by enough people at the same time. It could become “the spark that starts the fire” by igniting a sentiment of unity among southern Italians, who are discovering that something is missing in mainstream history books informing how Italy was united 150 years ago. Aprile explains, through a series of anecdotes and historical events, how the south of Italy has ended up becoming the “minority” of the country, relegated to a backward condition with respect to the north of the nation and to the rest of Europe, when 150 years earlier, Naples was, in Aprile’s account, behind only Paris and London on many counts. The book’s title is a political statement. He uses the word “terroni”, which is a derogatory term used by northern Italians to describe those from the south, and its root is “terra”, that is, land. It can be translated generally to mean peasant, with a negative connotation. In the subtitle Aprile uses the Italian word “meridionali”, which can be translated literally as “southerners”, and it also has a pejorative connotation, rather than a geographical one.

Aprile very ably connects the events of 150 years ago to today, either in terms of similarity between those of the past and today’s events, or showing the actual causal relationship between yesterday’s events and today’s. He recounts how the Piedmontese government had set up the first concentration camps in 1860 and 1861, where thousands of Neapolitan and other southern Italian soldiers and irregular combatants were deported and left to die within a few years, preceding by approximately 80 years the notorious Nazi concentration camps in Europe. The comparison between the Nazis and the Piedmontese soldiers is continued also when Aprile describes how the towns of Pontelandolfo and Casalduni were destroyed by the Bersaglieri infantry troops in August 1861, in the same way that the Nazis destroyed Marzabotto in September 1944. In both cases, the civilian population was massacred in response to the action of irregular combatants against occupation troops. Aprile also draws a comparison between the torture used by the American military in Abu Grahid and what the Piedmontese did in the years following the unification of Italy. His analogies between past events and today’s allow the reader to immediately relate to events that took place 150 years ago.

Aprile uses an abundant amount of data taken from official Italian governmental sources to draw causal relationships between the events surrounding the unification of Italy and the current condition of the south of the peninsula. The most astonishing fact relates to the wealth of the treasury of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which amounted to over 443 million lire in gold, compared to the 20 million lire in paper money held by the invading Kingdom of Sardinia, as the Piedmontese state was known at the time of the unification of Italy. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies held 60 percent of the total value of all the treasuries possessed by the different Italian states in 1860. Aprile argues that the treasury was taken north, and used to pay for the debts of the House of Savoy, the royal family leading the newly formed Kingdom of Italy, which had been involved in waging wars against its neighbors for several years, and for unfairly financing the industries of the north. Aprile notes that, ironically, the money of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies has been used to modernize the North and then a small part has been allowed to trickle back to the South, in terms of public subsidies and loans. In brief, according to Aprile, the South has ended up borrowing its own money, inappropriately held by the North.

The book recounts the story of cutting-edge Southern industries which, at the time of the unity of Italy, were either dismantled or allowed to go to ruin, due to the unfair competition from the North, or due to explicit decisions made by the newly formed Italian State. The metal works in Mongione and Pietrarsa, the shipyards in Castellammare, the textile industries, and the sulfur mines of Sicily are among those allowed to perish or to degrade into secondary ones after the unification of Italy.

The most striking aspect of the book for a southerner is to discover that there was virtually no immigration before the unification of Italy. The so-called “southern question” emerged only after the southern economy was practically destroyed as a consequence of the invasion by Piedmont. Millions of southern Italians left their occupied nation to reach the shores of America, South America, Australia and other locations overseas, leaving behind an impoverished land.

Aprile attempts to do justice to the irregular combatants, called brigands by the Piedmontese, by describing their heroic resistance against 120 thousand Italian regular troops, who fought almost ten years to suffocate the southern rebellion. The irregular troops were composed of soldiers from the defeated Borbonic Army, peasants, and idealists who were unhappy with the occupation of their homeland by the Piedmontese. Aprile is not very generous with the Italian national hero, Garibaldi, who is described as making arrangements with local criminals belonging to the mafia and the camorra in order to conquer the South.

Aprile’s book is a call to action and unity of the southern Italians, emphasizing the need to connect, with a sense of dignity, to their history, to fight the prejudice created in the minds of most Italians, whereby any investment by the State in the south is “extraordinary”, while what takes place in the north is “ordinary”.

His book, when translated into English, will be an eye opener for millions of Southern Italians dispersed throughout the globe. It will allow them to understand why they were born in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Australia and so on. They will also understand how heroic their ancestors were when they fought against a brutal occupation force, sustained by Great Britain and other powers interested in annihilating the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The book, when translated into English and Spanish, could very well generate, on the part of southern Italians dispersed throughout the globe, significant support for the numerous movements calling for a rebirth of the Italian south, with a new sense of “national” dignity.

Update on 10 November 2011:  The book is now available in English.  Click  Barnes and Noble or Amazon.


Filed under History

39 responses to “Book review – “Terroni: All that was done to ensure that the Italians of the south would become ‘meridionali’ (southerners)” by Pino Aprile

  1. Great, I am so glad to see Aprile’s book reviews in English too. Like you, I do believe his book should be translated in English (at least!) – and that’s actually the first think I thought while I was still reading the first chapter.

    While there have been other books about this topic, Aprile’s is “special” for two reasons, IMHO: first, it’s kind of “pressing”, if you get what I mean. Second, it exploits the most recent studies, which one and for all state an incontrovertible truth.

    Going off topic, you are the second american living in (and loving?) Naples I come across in the last two weeks. Your last name sounds Italian though – is your family of Italian origins?

    It was a pleasure to come across your blog – Bookmarked.



    • Anthony M. Quattrone, Ph.D.

      Thank you Vincenzo for your very kind words! My family name is from Calabria. I am a product of the emigration from the South at the end of the 1800s.
      All the best!

  2. Calabria! What a wonderful land – I’ve been there this summer for my holidays 🙂

    All the best to you too, Anthony.

    Keep in touch,


  3. So glad to have found your review of Pino Aprile’s book in English – it is such a very important subject that needs to be shared with a broader audience. I just posted the link to it on my facebook page and twitter to share with my readers.

    I also have a website here in Napoli – that is somewhat of a city portal and that focuses on promoting this amazing city. So happy to see that the political side is being well represented by your blog.

    I am looking forward to your section on the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and will definitely be following your blog and sharing it with my readers.

    Cordiali Saluti,

  4. I’m glad to have found this review of a fascinating book. I look forward to the English translation. I’ve read bits and pieces of related material in my quest to understand my Sicilian heritage, but this book seems to pull it all together. I read a memoir, not long ago, by a Sicilian-American who toured Rome & then returned to his ancestral home. The author was surprised to learn that Sicilians were referred to as something akin to “the dirt people”.

    My grandmother Maria Grazie Amato Congilosi, left Monreale, Sicily when she was a small girl. When I was a growing up, one of the phrases she taught me was “Go to Rome, and live; Go to Naples and die.”. I was reminded of this as I read of the author’s call to southern Italian unity. 🙂

    • Anthony M. Quattrone, Ph.D.

      Dear Maura,
      thanks for your comment. I hope that Pino Aprile’s book gets translated into English soon! I sent him your comment earlier today.
      All the best!

  5. I came here from Napoli unplugged website, to read the review. This seems such an important book to clarify and shed light on the life of Southern Italians. I look forward to its English translation too.
    I’m one of those immigrants from the Basilicata, who left Italy in the late 1950’s to study in the United States and never returned home. I wrote about my life in my memoir blog, When I Was Your Age, depicting situations of poverty and courage and determination.

    I’m looking forward to the book.

    • Hi Rosaria, I’ve just read the interview you had with Italy Magazine, and I must say I am touched.

      If you are still comfortable with Italian (no offence intended – I just know many emigrants from old generations tended to forget or “break” their native language if emigrated too young), you could order the Italian version of the book online and have it delivered to your door over in the US.

      As far as I know, the book is not yet scheduled for a translation, although I am quite sure it will – it won’t be the first book from this author to get translated.



    • Anthony M. Quattrone, Ph.D.

      Hi Rosaria!
      thanks for your comment. I hope that Pino Aprile’s book gets translated into English soon! I sent him your comment earlier today.
      All the best!

  6. Carla Guerriero

    Can’t wait for this to be translated into English! My father’s family members all live in Napoli…it’s a wonderful, historic city and I would like to live there one day myself 🙂

  7. Alex J. Tannucilli

    Dear Dr. Quattrone:

    I just learned of this author and his interesting work from a friend who read the book in Italian. This gentleman was born in Campania, and he claims that the author answered a lot of questions about both the historic and present economic and social condition of the Italian south. I also have roots in Campania and in Basilicata – and I cannot wait for the English translation.

    Kind regards,

    Alex J. Tannucilli

  8. Anthony Esposito

    This book appears to be very interesting and I hope it is translated into English as soon as possible. My grandparents left Sarno in the Campania region in 1903 and eventually ended up in Winnipeg, Canada. I have always wondered what happened to southern Italy after such a glorious past and I believe this book would shed some considerable light in this regard.
    I’m really hoping the south is able to rise again.
    Thank you for this.

  9. We loved Naples when we travelled there in 1992 and my maternal ancestors originated from Sicily and Southern Italy although they move up the peninsula in the nineteenth century when their lands were confiscated. In all my reading about Italy for research for my book, I have never come across the barbaric concentration camps. Cannot wait until I can read your book in English; although I have taught myself the Italian language, it might be a slow read for me in that most beautiful of languages.

  10. Pingback: Unification of Italy Anniversary – Risorgimento! « A Life in Two Halves

  11. As I stated in my previous post, my maternal Italian ancestors emigrated to NZ in 1876 because their life in Italy was destroyed after the Unification. Decades earlier, some of them moved up the peninsula when their lands were confiscated in the south, with no compensation. I have just had a book published ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’ which concerns the effects this, combined with the cancer within the Catholic Church, had on their lives. Later generations are still bearing the scars. From what the review of Aprile’s book and other publications tell us, Italy might have been a very differnt country today had this mass exodus not taken place. I am also interested to explore Aprile’s views on Garibaldi.

  12. The book is being translated into English and sponsored by ILICA (Italian Language Inter-Cultural Alliance) and Calandra Institute. Should be ready in a couple of months.

  13. giuseppe

    Garibaldi invaded the south, there was never a declared war.Garibaldi promised the gangsters the top gov.positions if they did not oppose the invasion.The south was very rich and the Savoy confiscated all and impoverished the population.Pino Aprile Please have your book translate in English,this will make a lot of people understand why Italian from the south had to emigrate.

  14. Adriana

    Canadian to Italian parents from Pontelandolfo. I cannot wait to read this. I worked with Northerners and have been called Terrone many times in the office and yes in Canada. They bring their prejudices here too. I am a proud daughter of southerners and call myself Italo-Canadese a lot. Always from the south I tell everyone.

    Nice to read your blog guys.

  15. I’m desperately awaiting an English version, and I hope that version will be used in lecture halls throughout the North East and other areas where Italian-Americans (mostly Southern) reside. I also hope this book can help spur an intellectual revolution where the great Southern minds who were evicted unlawfully by a corrupt and thieving North can help to rejuvenate a new Southern Separatist movement. Long Live the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies! (all the way from Brooklyn)

  16. Paul Sacchi

    It seems a bit farfetched!

  17. John A Miele

    I too have been moved by this book. I was always under the impression that there was a mass migration of southern Italians after the unification because of the poverty, not because of the systematic oppression of the north. I am still amazed that until I started reading Terroni I had no idea of the conditions in Southern Italy. This book must be publicized not only in Italy but also around the world. I initially did not believe what I was reading because I had never read anything relating to this before. In the book ” 500 years of Italians in America” I was led to believe that a great number of southern Italians left due to economic reasons and that many of them were dirt poor and illiterate. I hope that as more people read this account we as Italians will have more respect for ourselves and for being Italian, not as we are depicted in movies and TV. John A. Miele

  18. Dear Paul Sacchi, there is a shedload of historical documents that prove everything. Actually, what Terroni tells us is about 1% of what people should really know. The other 99% is even more terrifying and disgusting and it covers every day of the last 150 years. The italian state, even the current republican “version” of it, is one of worst regimes ever and it’d deserve to be charged for crimes against humanity.

  19. Concetta Laquintana

    I want to thank first of all Pino Aprile for writing such an eye-opener book and Anthony Quattrone for the eloquent book review. I teach Italian in a private school in UK and I’m planning to introduce my senior students to the “Questione meridionale”. Unfortunately wherever you read you find the same old stories about the South being poor and full of ignortants and being exploited by the borbons and this is what students know through films and literature. I’m glad that Aprile has opened an new chapter in the history of Italy and our south (I’m pugliese, from Troia -FG) to make us understand who we really are and how we can regain some dignity and maybe change our mentality and redeem the South for the future generations.

  20. Nicholas Arena

    I came across this entire question, while about to attend a
    conference here in Manhattan (today: Nov. 10th), where Aprile
    and another, who claims actually Northernors (derisively called
    “Polentoni,”) were short-changed, will speak. Should be interesting.

    Interesting, too, that I, from a Southern family, now teaching law,
    studied Italian literature at Columbia University, often traveling to
    Italy, found this narrative entirely new. My parents, who had many
    Northern friends, never reflected in speech or behavior what Aprile

    For now, I am keeping, as I used to tell juries in the many murder
    cases I tried, “an open mind.”

    Nicholas A. F. Arena, Esq.

    • Bear in mind that the majority of people have no idea about this because everything has been buried by the ruling classe of the occupying state. The truth is now slowly coming out in the open and reaching the masses. And that’s still nothing, as things didn’t stop 150 years ago. They only started. The regime of internal colonialism is currently still well alive, hence the dramatic degeneration of the social, civic and economic conditions of Naples and Sicily.

      Also, being friend with people from the north doesn’t necessary imply ignorance of the facts, or, in contrary, knowing the facts doesn’t imply you have to be an enemy of the people from the north. For myself, I have many friends from there. They are just common people as we are that have no idea about anything. The problem is the ruling class that is indeed from there as well as the kapos from the south that are just servant who keep selling their land for their own benefit.

      Ultimately, the problem is the very foundation of the italian state.

  21. Saverio Stranges

    This book helps understand the underlying historical reasons for the current economic “gap” between Northern and Southern Italy.

    I would like to say that long time ago I have decided to make a commitment in my personal and professional life, by challenging the negative stereotypes and prejudice easily and typically associated with Southern Italy and my home town…(Portici, Napoli), without grasping the deep roots of what we see on the surface today.

    As people should be aware, until the so-called “unification” of Italy or invasion of Southern Italy by Cavour and his troupes from Piedmont region (with support of England, actually…) in 1860s, the situation was quite different, if not just the opposite, with the Southern part of the country being the richest, and Naples being among the three most populated cities in Europe and behind only Paris and London on many counts. There is plenty of unbiased historical documentation for that.

    But, as people are aware, history is written by the winning party and plenty of misleading information has been passed over the years about this issue.

    Perhaps, after reading it, people could be persuaded that also good things and good human beings can originate from Napoli and Southern Italy…, besides pizza, Sorrento, mafia, and waste.…

    Also, readers will realise why many people like me, who have been forced in a sense to leave Southern Italy to pursue their own dreams, are still so passionate about their roots.

    On many counts, Southern Italians share similar feelings of African Americans, and several other populations discriminated in the human history.

    Enjoy the reading,
    Saverio Stranges

  22. I want to be militant. I have suggested the acquisition of the book by two
    Montreal english language universitys, Concordia and Tomas D’arcy
    Mc Gee, i’m wating for results. In Quebec alone three hundred thousand
    Italian origin.
    I have read Terroni by Pino Aprile two two years ago in italian on my last
    trip to Italy it has opened a consciousness even today we southern Italians consume products from “Padania” not only in Italy but even us Italian Canadian and Italian American We most be more vigilant of what we consume and buy product from the south part of the contry.

    I suggest reading Nicola Zitara L’invenzione del mezzogiorno unfortunatli
    only in italian the details are hard to digest i strongly recommend it.


  23. Phd I. Mandic

    I have read ENG version of this excellent book “Terroni” of P. Aprile, and I will make the translation of the most important parts into Serbian.

    You should know that the similar thing happened in Serbia. We united 130 years ago, 1862 and 1878. What happened after is that, a gang of thieves from the north completely robbed and ruined the south. All that was followed by a large migration from the south into northern parts of Serbia and into other countries.

    Greetings for southern Italians from southern Serbia.

  24. I have just read ‘Terroni’ and it has exceeded all of my expectations! All people living in Italy and those of Italian descent must read this book.

  25. Pingback: Terroni Is Not A Nice Word! « anne frandi-coory

  26. Salvatore Mascia

    Thanks for the review. The book was first brought to my attention by a friend of mine–an attorney from the south of Italy vacationing in Montreal, Canada. Though my Italian is passible (at home, we spoke a southern Italian dialect), I am looking forward to the English translation of the text. (Or French, if available)

    • Salvatore Mascia

      Finally got the book and read it from cover to cover. Aprile’s thesis on how the south was exploited by the north is not new. Other authors have already written on the subject. Please note that Aprile’s thesis has been subject to much criticism from Italian scholars. As they say in certain scientific publications: more reasearch is required.

      • Anthony M. Quattrone, Ph.D.

        Dear Salvatore, Pino Aprile’s view has been criticized by some and supported by others. In general those who wish to continue putting forward that Garibaldi came down South to free the people from some sort of foreign oppression are critical of Aprile’s work. On the other hand, those who are trying to understand why millions of Southern Italians have had to leave the South since 1860 appreciate his work. More research is certainly required, and what is coming out from more and more researchers, also from the North, is that the decline of the South has started after the “unification” of Italy. Best regards!

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