Gavino Ledda (born December 30, 1938) is an author and a scholar of the Italian language and of Sardinian. He is best known for his autobiographical work Padre padrone (1975).
Ledda was born in Siligo, in the Province of Sassari, Sardinia, into a poor family of shepherds. Gavino's father made him leave school at the age of six, when he was only in the first year of his primary school education. Bursting into the classroom in the middle of a lesson, Ledda's father justified his position by saying that he needed the boy's help for his agricultural work, as Gavino was his eldest son. In scenes that feature in Padre padrone, he went on to say that school was a luxury that poor shepherds could not afford, and demanded that his son be handed over to him. Although primary education had been compulsory in Italy since the Casati Act of 1859, Ledda's father accused the authorities of wanting to make school compulsory while, according to him: "la povertà, quella è obbligatoria" ("poverty, that's compulsory") (quote from Padre padrone).
Having only attended school for a few weeks, Gavino could not yet read or write. His father, to all intents and purposes, had condemned him to illiteracy, in the same way that he had been treated by his own father, who had removed him from school in a similar fashion. Gavino's father promised him that he would be able to study when he was older, taking the elementary school leaving exams — usually taken at the end of five years of primary schooling — as an external candidate.
Ledda's father gradually introduced him to life as a herder, however his father's teachings were always given with a certain amount of brutality, and were often accompanied by beatings. Initially, Ledda's father allowed him to live in the village of Siligo together with his mother and his siblings, but he was soon sent to live at the family steading in the isolated Baddevrùstana, in order that he could run it by himself, leaving his father to concentrate on his work in Siligo. Baddevrùstana is only a few kilometres from Siligo, but the only means of transport the family had was a mule, so the journey seemed long to the young Ledda.
Gavino, still a child, had difficulty getting used to living and working alone at Baddevrùstana, and the more intolerant and rebellious he became, the more violent his father's punishments were. On one occasion, for example, Ledda's father tied him behind the mule and dragged him from Siligo to Baddevrùstana. On another occasion, his father chased him with a spiny branch, with which he thrashed him so much that he deformed his son's face. After this punishment, Ledda's father became seriously concerned that he had irreparably damaged his son's health, and his eyes in particular. He took Gavino to Siligo and called a doctor who, in spite of the explanations put forward by Gavino's parents, realised how the young boy's face was really damaged. The doctor threatened to report Ledda's father if the incident ever repeated itself.
Ledda spent the rest of his childhood and adolescence working under his father in a state of substantial slavery, and often forced to endure excessive amounts of work and stress. During Gavino's adolescent years, his father decided to send the entire family to Baddevrùstana. Gavino's younger brothers also began to work like him.
Gavino's emancipation from his "padre padrone" (the title of his biographical work has been translated into English as "My Father, My Master") began towards the end of his adolescence, when his father allowed him to take his elementary school exams as he had promised. Around the same period, his father's olive grove was destroyed by frost, and so Gavino and his brothers were denied the prospect of inheriting such valuable property.
Ledda began to develop a passion for learning and a dogged determination to free himself from his life as a poor, illiterate shepherd trapped in a backward environment. First, he planned to emigrate to
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