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The Stronghold

The Stronghold

by Dino Buzzati, translated from the Italian by Lawrence Venuti

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At the start of Dino Buzzati’s The Stronghold, newly commissioned officer Giovanni Drogo has just received his first posting: the remote Fortezza Bastiani. North of this stronghold are impassable mountains; to the south, a great desert; and somewhere out there is the enemy, whose attack is imminent.

This is the enemy that Lieutenant Drogo has been sent to draw out of his lair, to defeat once and for all, returning home in triumph. And yet time passes, and where is the enemy?

As the soldiers in the fortress await the foretold day of reckoning, they succumb to inertia, and though death occurs, it is not from bravery. Decades pass. A lifetime passes. Drogo, however, still has his lonely vigil to keep.

Buzzati is one of the great Italian writers of the twentieth century, renowned for his fantastical imagination and for a touch that is as lyrical as it is light. The Stronghold, previously translated as The Tartar Steppe, is his most celebrated work, a book that has been read as a veiled attack on Mussolini’s fascist militarism, a prophetic allegory of the Cold War, and an existentialist fable.

Lawrence Venuti’s new translation reverts to the title that Buzzati originally intended to give his book, and seeks to bring out both the human and the historical dimensions of a story of proven power and poignancy.

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681377148
Pages: 216
Publication Date:


Although relatively little happens—tales of stasis can be like that—the skill with which Buzzati conjures unease helps make The Stronghold a remarkably compelling read.
—Andrew Stuttaford, The New Criterion

Suffused with a sense of uneasy magic and imprecise in location or time period... Each scene is sinister and strange, Drogo’s spare and orderly life a counterpoint to his imagination...Venuti’s new translation deliberately evokes the Italian Fascist regime. The current rise in authoritarianism is reason enough for a reissue. I felt I hardly blinked while reading the book and for a long time afterward.
—Cary Holladay, The Hudson Review

The Fortezza’s magic is conjured and sustained by Buzzati’s luscious imagery. Venuti’s meticulous translation projects the cinematic landscape that surrounds the Fortezza—the same landscape that Drogo traverses on the way to his new commission.
—Sarah Gear, Full Stop

For Buzzati, the potential for his story to be “timeless” and “universal” was there from the beginning. And yet, much as he resisted it, he could not escape what Venuti calls the “political unconscious,” something hidden in the dreamlike texture of his work. The success of The Stronghold can be seen in the extent to which Venuti has been able to bring these two distinct aspects together.
—Caterina Domeneghini, Los Angeles Review of Books

That [The Stronghold] has endured across eras and contexts is often put down to its allegorical openness, unanchored as it is from a specific time or place, but this does a disservice to the quality of Buzzati’s writing, the precision of his gaze, and his artistry in translating that gaze to the page….Today, in the context of rising authoritarianism globally, Buzzati’s story of individual struggle against an all-powerful system has once again become a story of our times.
—Matthew Janney, The Financial Times

The Stronghold can feel at times like a deconstruction of one man's frustrations, while at others it evokes the ghosts of a nation’s repressed anxieties. The way in which protagonist Giovanni Drogo witnesses his life vanish before his eyes is both surreal and effective, even as the mysteries of the remote facility where he spends much of his life take the novel into more archetypal territory. In Lawrence Venuti’s translation, Dino Buzzati’s prose easily shifts from tactile to hallucinatory and back again.
—Tobias Carroll, Words Without Borders

Buzzati’s most well-known novel, The Tartar Steppe (1945), receives a fine new translation with an improved title from Venuti. . . . Buzzati manages to make the reader deeply invested in the soldiers’ uncertainty and dread, even as he throws down a blistering critique of fascism. . . . This passes the test of time with flying colors.
Publishers Weekly

Dino Buzzati . . . is one of the few who have come close to rewriting a whole Kafka parable. [The Stronghold] follows the style, mood and architecture of Kafka's Castle, the story of man struggling hopelessly to enter a stronghold in whose depths, could he but fathom them, lay faith and stability. The difference is that Buzzati's hero struggles from within the stronghold itself.

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