The Italia Reading Challenge – Completed!

I have completed the Italia Reading Challenge, which was a challenge for me to read books by Italian authors throughout the year 2022. I would like to thank Emma from Book Around the Corner for contributing to this challenge and the first two books in the selection above are her review contributions. The challenge covered such diverse genres as literary fiction (Pavese), historical fiction (Bassani), play (Pirandello), non-fiction (Angela), short story (Buzzati) and memoir/poetry (Dante), as well as authors born in such diverse regions of Italy as Sardinia (Pulixi), Veneto (Buzzati), Piedmont (Pavese), Lazio (Rome) (Morante), Tuscany (Florence) (Dante), Varese (Fo), and Sicily (Pirandello).

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Review: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis [1962/2005] – ★★★★

Nothing I know matters more / than what never happened.” John Burnside

This Italian classic tells the story of the prominent and aristocratic Finzi-Contini family in the Italian city of Ferrara in the 1920-30s through the eyes of a boy and then a man hopelessly in love with this family’s beautiful daughter Micòl. Our narrator’s family and that of Micòl could not be more apart on a societal standing, but they are both Jewish, and our narrator is soon admitted to Micòl’s entourage, making friends not only with Micòl, but also with her brother Alberto. A well-kept tennis court in the garden of the Finzi-Contini becomes the central point of the young people’s existence, and also, as it turns out, a sort of a safe haven, as anti-Semitic forces are tightening their grip on Italy on the eve of the World War II. Unbeknown to all, the ground is already set for the ultimate tragedy. This sensitive novel does not have the clearest of narratives, but it is still a touching coming-of-age story of lost love and opportunities, where emotions of first-love and tender friendship learn to co-exist with such feelings as pride and shame.

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Review: Catastrophe & Other Stories by Dino Buzzati

Catastrophe & Other Stories [1965] – ★★★★

This short story collection is from one of the most inventive minds of Italy – writer and poet Dino Buzzati (1906 – 1972). I liked this collection more than the one I read last year – Buzzati’s The Siren: A Selection of Short Stories. In Catastrophe & Other Stories, there are twenty stories overall, but I am reviewing only five below. Though this collection is a bit of a mixed bag, it is definitely worth a read, especially for those into absurdist, existentialist or Kafkaesque fiction.

I. Seven Floors – ★★★★★

This is the best story in the collection, in my opinion. In it, one Giuseppe Corte enters one unusual sanatorium and desperately wants to remain on its top floor – the seventh, but circumstances are not in his favour. Why such a desire? It so happens that this medical establishment is designed in such a way that its top floors are reserved for mild cases, and the further down you go, the more serious cases you encounter until eventually you hit floor one where the hopeless dying “convalesce”. One hero is soon torn by a dilemma: he does not want to be a serious medical case, but the lower floors also have better medical equipment and more knowledgeable doctors and nurses. What does one do? Seven Floors is a fine example of a purely Kafkaesque terror, and the story can also be viewed as a satire on illness, diagnosis, hypochondria, and medical establishment.

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September 2022 Wrap-Up

How Green Was My Valley [1939] by Richard Llewellyn – ★★★★

Beautiful were the days that are gone, and O, for them to be back. The mountain was green, and proud with a good covering of oak and ash, and washing his feet in a streaming river clear as the eyes of God” [Richard Llewellyn, Penguin Books, 1939/2001: 153].

This absorbing story is told through the perspective of a small boy and then a young man living in a close-knit mining community in Wales during the reign of Queen Victoria. Huw Morgan grows up in changing times and in a family of many other children and plenty of role models. The Morgan family experiences both good and bad times, enduring their daily struggles with their coal employers and the rise of labour unions, but still finds happiness of living so united, peacefully abiding by the laws of the Church and being surrounded by the primordial beauty of nature. Huw makes enemies and friends, both in school and in a wider community, and finds out about friendship, duty, shame, guilt and justice, as well as, later, the value of honest work, and torments and confusion of first love. Permeated with much emotion and with that quiet, poetic and resolute conviction, How Green Was My Value is a heart-felt, bitter-sweet and nostalgic literary masterpiece, a one-of-kind homage to innocence lost and to Wales that is no more.

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Review: Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante

Arturo’s Island [1957/2019] – ★★★★

This coming-of-age story won the 1957 Strega Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award, but this review is of a newer translation by Ann Goldstein. The book tells of a fourteen-year-old boy Arturo Gerace living in Procida, Bay of Naples, Italy some time before the World War II. Growing up without his mother and with often absent father Wilhelm Gerace, Arturo is still happy to spend his days without rules or schedules running wild around the island, imagining being an adult and embarking on some sea adventure that would bring him eternal glory. That is until his father, whom Arturo idolises, brings home his new sixteen-year-old bride Nunziata. From that point on, Arturo’s world will never be the same and the shift in the household’s dynamics means that Arturo can finally confront his deepest subconscious traumas with a chance to experience both the joys and sorrows of secret love. Morante’s tale is deceptively simple, and is more psychological than first assumed. It evokes all the delights of childhood wonder and the longings of adolescence, the feelings of endless summers and the atmosphere of mysterious, isolated lands surrounded by aquamarine seas.

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Review: A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome by Alberto Angela

A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome [2007/09] ★★★★

This book about ancient Rome is written in a conversational style, and we walk through the ancient city with the author who acts as our guide, pointing to us various curiosities we encounter in our journey through the day. From 6:00 a.m., the time to explore one as yet silent domus of a wealthy Roman citizen, to 9:00 p.m., the time when, ordinarily, a Roman banquet nears its end, we spend the day exploring the lives of the wealthy, the poor and the slaves in the world’s most populous city in the year 115 CE, while the author also comments on such topics as Roman religion, professions, education, money, games and food. The book, translated from the Italian by Gregory Conti, is quite introductory, but still wondrous, and even those who are familiar with the lives of Romans are bound to pick up some interesting facts to explore further.

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Review: Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

Six Characters in Search of an Author [1921] – ★★★★

Luigi Pirandello’s plays are considered precursors to the Theatre of the Absurd and this play in three acts I read is one thought-provoking work that satirises the staging of a play, while muddling up such concepts as creation and performance, and an objective viewpoint and its subjective counterpart. In the play, a number of Characters come and gate-crash the rehearsal of a play “Mixing It Up”: the Father, the Mother, the Step-Daughter, the Son, the Boy and the Child. The Manager and the Actors are amazed to suddenly find on stage this group of Character-people, abandoned by their Author and eager to act out the drama of their lives. What then can the Manager do, but allow the Characters to try their hand at staging their performances? This play about a play is also an illusion within an illusion and a triple drama, of a book we read as play, of a stage to be set for a real drama, and, finally, of a play to come to “life” through an artistic vision gone haywire.

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Review: The Moon and The Bonfire by Cesare Pavese

The Moon and The Bonfire [1949/68/2002] – ★★★★

“You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy”, so a proverb states. The Moon and The Bonfire is a deeply personal final novel by Italian author Cesare Pavese in which he tells the story of Anguila, a successful businessman, who returns from California to his native country Italy after years and years of absence. Never knowing his real mother and father, Anguila grew up in a foster family in one Piedmontese village near river Belbo in the north of Italy. Abandoned from birth and poor, he had to endure a rough childhood that was only somewhat brightened by his friendship with an older boy Nuto and his fascination with the beautiful daughters of his later master. Now, after years of absence, Anguila decides to reconnect with the land he once called home because after all – “there is no place like home”, or is there? Poverty, war and moral degradation had all left their mark on the region that was once Anguila’s whole world and his detailed re-evaluation of the past, spent desires and dashed hopes leads to surprising conclusions.  

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Italia Reading Challenge 2022

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Italy is such a historically and culturally rich country and there are/were so many great Italian authors – Alighieri Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio, Niccolo Machiavelli, Alessandro Manzoni (The Betrothed), Cesare Pavese, Umberto Eco (Foucault’s Pendulum), Italo Calvino (The Baron in the Trees), to name just a few. Taking this into account and since I loved some Italian books I’ve read recently I’ve decided to make 2022 my year exploring Italian literature and set up the Italia (Italy) Reading Challenge (to run between January and December 2022). To make this challenge more manageable for myself, I have decided to limit my reading goal to just 10 books written by Italian authors. If we consider that these books all come from just one country, I don’t think it’s a bad start at all, and here is my selection for this year:

  • Alberto Moravia – Contempt/Boredom/The Time of Indifference
  • Antonio Tabucchi Pereira Maintains
  • Primo Levi If This is a Man/If Not Now, When?
  • Elena Ferrante The Days of Abandonment
  • Leonardo Sciascia To Each His Own
  • Giorgio Bassani The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
  • Italo Svevo Zeno’s Conscience
  • Dacia MarainiThe Silent Duchess
  • Elsa MoranteArturo’s Island
  • Luigi Pirandello The Late Mattia Pascal

Finally, if you want to join me on this journey this year (reading any number of books), you can grab the banner and leave links to your reviews throughout the year in the comments section on this permanent page – Italia Reading Challenge 2022 or below and I will add them to the general list, as well as do a summary post in December 2022 – #ReadItaliaChallenge.