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Il fuoco invisibile. Storia umana di un disastro naturale

Can one tell an ecological and social drama as if it were a fast-paced, multi-voiced novel? That’s what Daniele Rielli does in this book in which, trying to understand what is killing his family’s olive trees, he reconstructs the events linked to the arrival in Apulia of Xylella, a bacterium that has caused the world’s worst plant epidemic. It all starts in Gallipoli, when olive trees begin to dry up and die in a way never seen before. A whirlwind of events is set in motion that picks up speed until it becomes unstoppable. The olive tree is the symbolic tree of Mediterranean civilisation and is considered immortal, the squares fill with demonstrators protesting against the containment measures and the judiciary indicts the scientists who discovered the disease: it is the perfect storm. Today, at least 21 million olive trees – including many centuries-old and millenary trees, an irreplaceable heritage – are dead, it is as if the entire province of Lecce had been burnt by a gigantic invisible fire. The epidemic is moving inexorably northwards and one question remains open: how was this possible? Daniele Rielli follows this story from the very beginning, for years he talks to the scientists who study the bacterium, he meets the deniers who do not believe in the disease, he listens to the farmers and olive millers who are trying to save their businesses, he studies documents, he interrogates people, he travels thousands of kilometres inside an area that is turning from an earthly paradise into a gigantic vegetable graveyard, losing its deepest identity. During this long journey, Rielli investigates the ancient bond with his family’s olive trees, discovers the secrets of the oil industry, reflects on the most paradoxical aspects of our relationship with nature and the enormous power of stories. The Invisible Fire is both a family novel and the account of a Salem witch trial in the age of social media.


Daniele Rielli (1982) has written Odio (Mondadori, 2020), Storie del mondo nuovo (Adelphi, 2016) and Lascia stare la gallina (Mondadori 2015, 2021). He hosts ‘PDR – Il podcast di Daniele Rielli’.

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