Ursula Lindsey at The Nation:
Spina’s opus is the colonial epic The Confines of the Shadow, a cycle of 11 novels and short-story collections that offers a deep and singular account of the great historical fractures that preceded the establishment of Moammar El-Gadhafi’s Jamahiriya in 1977. A first installment, In Lands Overseas, containing three novels—The Young Maronite, The Marriage of Omar, and The Nocturnal Visitor—set during the Italian conquest and early occupation from 1911 to ’27, is now available from Darf in a translation by the poet André Naffis-Sahely. Two further installments focus on the brief golden age of the Italian colony, in the 1930s, and on the period of independence leading up to Gadhafi’s bloodless coup against King Idris in 1969. The Confines is a reminder, among many other things, of the radical transformations that Arab countries experienced in the 20th century—and that have continued to the present day, since Libya after Gadhafi’s fall has become a terrible new place.
In his lifetime, Spina saw more than one world end. When he realized that the establishment, development, and collapse of Italy’s Libyan colony were to be the focus of his life’s work, he began reading everything he could find on the subject. This research informs his first novel, The Young Maronite (1973), in particular. In it, we are treated to jaw-dropping quotations from Italian officials following the 1911 invasion (these have been removed from Darf’s translation—“a fairly daring choice,” writes Naffis-Sahely, intended to keep the flow of Spina’s prose unimpeded). In February 1912, Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti told the Italian Parliament, to applause: “I wish with all my heart that the world may have only colonial wars, because colonial war means the civilization of populations that would otherwise go on in barbarism.”