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).Continue reading “The Italia Reading Challenge – Completed!”
Tag: Italian Literature
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.Continue reading “Review: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani”
Review: Catastrophe & Other Stories by Dino Buzzati
Catastrophe & Other Stories  – ★★★★
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.Continue reading “Review: Catastrophe & Other Stories by Dino Buzzati”
A Trip to Venice II: Literary Highlights
Following from my previous post where I talked about Venice’s cultural highlights, below is the overview of my literary exploration of Venice.
I. Studium Bookshop
This stylish bookshop, not far from St Mark’s Square, exceeded my expectations. It is packed with beautiful fiction and non-fiction books on many subjects, from travel guides and children’s fiction to Italian cook-books and illustrated marvels on Japanese art. There are also sections devoted to English, French and Spanish books, and the staff is very friendly. It is here that I bought my now-much-cherished Spanish-language edition of Italian classic The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni, and, as you can see from the photographs below, I was very impressed by this bookstore’s Corto Maltese section. Corto Maltese is a series of comic books by Hugo Pratt that talks about adventures of sailor Corto Maltese in the first and second decade of the twentieth century. One of those is titled Corto Maltese: Fable of Venice, and people also recommended to me the book The Secret Venice of Corto Maltese: Fantastic and Hidden Itineraries.Continue reading “A Trip to Venice II: Literary Highlights”
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.Continue reading “Review: Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante”
Italian Literature Recommendations for Each Zodiac Sign
As many of you know, this year I am hosting the Italia Reading Challenge and got inspired to do the following list by my previous edition of it titled Japanese Literature Recommendations for Each Zodiac Sign.
ARIES (March 21 – April 19) – Corto Maltese [1967 – 2019] by Hugo Pratt
Aries is full of energy and does not mind a healthy amount of danger in his or her life. The enigmatic, contradictory hero of Hugo Pratt’s famous series may appeal to these people who love adventure. Feeling strange that you have been assigned a comic? No, it is just the opposite – this graphic novel is one deep material. Umberto Eco (Foucault’s Pendulum) famously said: “When I want to relax, I read an essay by Engels. When I want to read something serious, I read Corto Maltese.”
TAURUS (April 20 – May 20) – The Betrothed  by Alessandro Manzoni
Alessandro Manzoni’s classic novel, Italy’s “national institution”, is a tale of two lovers, Renzo and Lucia, who are trying to overcome oppression, jealousy and injustice on their path to happiness. Loyal and dependable Taurus will appreciate the values, romance and a sense of adventure this beautiful novel offers.
GEMINI (May 21 – June 20) – The Tartar Steppe  by Dino Buzzati
Geminis are clever and curious and this is the novel that only looks like a simply story, but requires quite an analysis. This claustrophobic novel’s theme of loneliness, allegedly Gemini’s biggest fear, can strike home for this Zodiac sign. The Tartar Steppe and Gemini may be the case of the attraction of the opposites. Changeable Gemini, who likes variety in life, may find the story’s Kafkaesque theme of being stuck in a fortress in the middle of nowhere a frighteningly intriguing reading proposition.Continue reading “Italian Literature Recommendations for Each Zodiac Sign”
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.Continue reading “Review: The Moon and The Bonfire by Cesare Pavese”
Italia Reading Challenge 2022
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 Maraini – The Silent Duchess
- Elsa Morante – Arturo’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.
Review: Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
Foucault’s Pendulum [1988/89] – ★★★★
“…the important thing is not the finding, it is the seeking, it is the devotion with which one spins the wheel of prayer and scripture, discovering the truth little by little” [Umberto Eco/William Weaver, Vintage Press: 1988/89: 33].
Trying to review Foucault’s Pendulum is like trying to write with your left-hand (if you are right-handed, that is) – an enormous task which will not probably be very successful. Through one dense, rich and enigmatic narrative, Umberto Eco tells the story of Casaubon (our narrator) and his friendship with two employees of a publishing house Garamond Press – Belbo and Diotallevi. This trio of intellectuals, who are simply in love with all kinds of knowledge, historic mysteries and brainy puzzles, start their own intellectual “game” of drawing connections with seemingly unrelated things using one clever word-processing machine and a suggestion from one Colonel Ardenti which concerns the order of the Knights Templar and perhaps mysterious resemblances. Little do they know that their amassed knowledge will be too diverse and their power of belief – too strong for a game which started on a whim and so childishly. When certain deaths and disappearances occur as they the trio’s search for their ultimate and absolute truth continues, it may be already too late to seek the way out. But is Eco’s story even about that? Perhaps it is about something else too, and about something else, and, equally, about something else. From the intellectual hub of Milan to esoteric, mysterious corners of Brazil, Umberto Eco takes the reader on one uncanny literary journey and presents a narrative which informs, surprises and exhilarates, as it also confounds, exhausts and overwhelms.Continue reading “Review: Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco”
Mini-Review: The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati
The Tartar Steppe [1940/2018] – ★★★★1/2
First published in 1940 and translated from the Italian by Stuart Hood, this novel is about young and idealistic Giovanni Drogo, a newly appointed Officer to Fort Bastiani, an obscure mountainous place near the country’s frontier. Drogo is excited about his first posting and hurries to his destination eagerly wanting to put to the test his soldiery skills, valour and discipline, as well as begin his new life. However, what awaits him is the unexpected: “the desolate steppe…which had mystery, but no meaning”, where “people [have] no knowledge of time” and where “everything [speaks] of renunciation” [Buzzati/Hood, 1945/1973: 22, 72, 82]. Fort Bastiani is a place in the middle of nowhere where no enemy has been seen since time immemorial. Drogo soon feels rebellious, then depressed and lonely, and is finally completely enchanted by nothingness. The Tartar Steppe is a masterful and subtle work which echoes the best work of Franz Kafka. It is a story about the traps that time lays to a man, about dashed hopes and missed life opportunities, and is a profound meditation on prisons that reside in the recesses of our own minds, in our beloved habits and dear ideals which we can never seem to cast aside no matter how nonsensical they may start to appear.Continue reading “Mini-Review: The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati”
Review: The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
The Baron in the Trees (Il barone rampante)  – ★★★1/2
The Baron in the Trees is the fourth book of Italian author Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities ), telling of a young man, Cosimo, of the eighteenth century who decides to live on trees, never going down, sticking to his own principle that he would never touch the ground again. His family soon realises that what might have started as a childish tantrum has transformed into something big and life-changing. In time, Cosimo manages not only to live on the trees, but also to hunt, cook food, sleep and wash his clothes up there. He makes himself useful to others and develops friendship with a local girl Viola. The exploration of the new world of Cosimo up in the trees is fascinating and Calvino’s existentialist concept of one man eschewing society and its norms is appealing. It is then even more surprising to learn that, unfortunately, The Baron in the Trees is also quite plot-less and, in the end, delivers little by way of substance.Continue reading “Review: The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino”
Review: The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni
The Betrothed [1827/1972] – ★★★★★
The Betrothed is an Italian classic by Alessandro Manzoni, the man who happened to be the grandson of Cesare Beccaria, the world-famous criminologist and philosopher. The novel is set in medieval Italy where two lovers (Renzo and Lucia) are prevented from marrying by a cowardly priest. From this flows all sorts of misunderstandings and advances from corrupt regimes as the two lovers are trying to overcome numerous obstacles and go through life trials (including a war, a plague and famine) on their path to a reunion. Beautifully translated from the Italian by Bruce Penman and boasting colourful and memorable characters, this classic tale from Italy is about undying love, faith, hope and perseverance in the face of oppression, betrayal and despair.Continue reading “Review: The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni”