A few years ago my parents were giving away some books and offered them to me. The Parnas, by Silvano Arieti, looked intriguing, so I took it. However, it sat on my book shelf for quite a while before I finally got around to reading it this past December.
Arieti is a Jewish psychiatrist who grew up in Pisa, Italy, before World War II. He left for the United States before the war, but several fellow Jews that he knew well stayed behind in Pisa. The Parnas is a fictionalized account of what happened to one such man, Giuseppe Pardo Roques. He was the parnas (chief elder) of the Pisan Jewish community, a learned, well-respected and generous man. However, he also had a mental illness, which was a phobia of all animals, but especially dogs. Due at least in part to this mental illness, he stayed behind in his home as the Nazis occupied Pisa. One night he and several people staying with him were slaughtered in his home. Arieti re-constructs and analyzes this night and Giuseppe’s final words based on facts told to him by surviving neighbors. In particular, the night of his slaughter the neighbors heard Giuseppe cry out “you are animals.” Arieti’s thesis is essentially that Giuseppe’s phobia stemmed from a fear of human evil.
I am mildly intrigued by The Parnas and Arieti’s analysis. I do not know much about mental illness, and, although I don’t agree with everything he suggests, some of Arieti’s conclusions sound reasonable. Overall, I am not sure how much I got out of the book, but I am glad that I finally read it.