On the road that leads from Milan to Como, for over a century an iron gate has marked the boundary between madness and sanity, between the unchanging world of the mentally ill and the one outside, where people are busy “making history”.
It is 1933, Year XI of the Fascist Era, when Giuseppe crosses the threshold of Mombello’s psychiatric hospital. Left without a home or a family, all he has is the hope that within those walls he might be cured of the “falling sickness” that at times takes over his body without warning. His days are marked by the emptiness of his ward and the hours he spends working in the Director’s office – until he meets a dark-eyed boy of his age who claims to be “Benito Mussolini”, the Duce’s son.
Sectioned against his will in the ward of the “Raving Madmen”, Benito Albino Bernardi, fearing that the nurses are going to poison him, begins to show increasing signs of mental instability, because he knows he will never leave Mombello alive. He is not mad as everyone else in the hospital, he tells the others. But in that living hell all his cries are hopeless and futile.
His only friend, Giuseppe, tries to give him a reason to fight on, and makes it his mission to tell the truth about Benito’s ordeal – a dark, forgotten historical event that Alessandro Gallenzi recreates with vividness in a novel pulsating with suffering and humanity.
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