The latest addition to my website is Antonio Moresco‘s Gli Esordi [The Beginnings]. One of my favourite blogs was The Untranslated which sadly retired (though the old posts are still accessible and Andrei continues to tweet as @TheUntranslated). Andrei reviewed a number of fascinating books which, as the title of his blog suggests, have not been translated, at least into English. However, quite a few, though certainly not all, were written in or are available in languages I can read so I shall be giving some of them a go over the next few months.
This one has made it into German but not any other language. It is a long novel, divided into three parts with a reticent narrator who, like Moresco himself, is first a novice priest, then coordinator for a left-wing group and, finally, a would-be novelist. The whole novel is absurdist as our hero takes a vow of total silence in the first part and simply observes, finds the region of Italy where he is active to be almost deserted in the second part, apart from a few decidedly odd characters, and struggles to get his novel published by his former monastery prefect in the third part and ends up partying with Pushkin, Cervantes and Emily Dickinson. It is totally absurd, funny and serious and highly original. No surprise that it is not available in English.
The latest addition to my website is Viola Di Grado‘s Cuore cavo (Hollow Heart). This s a very clever work about a twenty-five year Italian woman, Dorotea, who kills herself. We follow her story up to her death and the history of depression in her family but, more particularly, we follow her story after her death, how she adapts to being dead, her relationship with her corpse and with other dead people but also with some living people, and how she learns how to be dead. While there is some humour, it is essentially a serious book and works very well, thanks to the skill of Di Grado treating her as a character with her own problems, which are not the same as those she had while alive though, as she says, Life goes on, as people say, and death too goes on and on and on.>
The latest edition to my website is
Viola Di Grado‘s Settanta acrilico trenta lana (70% Acrylic 30% Wool). This is a depressing novel about two Italian women, Livia and Camila, mother and daughter, who live in Leeds, England. At the beginning of the novel, Stefano, husband and father of the two is killed in a car crash. The accident plunges the two women into a serious depression. Camila was planning to study Chinese at Leeds University and abandons that, while Livia, a successful flautist, abandons her career. Camila forages clothes from a skip and meets the owner of the clothes shop, Wen, who is Chinese and volunteers to teach her Chinese. It goes wrong, firstly, when she thinks he was after more than teaching her Chinese and then when she meets his somewhat mentally disturbed brother, Jimmy. Despite Livia going off on a photography class, both women seem to struggle to escape their depression. While at times quirky (though not always in a good way), the book is generally fairly sad to read though very well written.
The latest addition to my website is Piero Chiara‘s La stanza del vescovo (The Bishop’s Bedroom). This book, now published in English for the first time forty-three after it was first published in Italian, is set in 1946. The unnamed narrator owns a yacht on Lake Maggiore and, as he has some money, is putting off the day when he has to go work and, at the same time, trying to recover the youth he lost in the war. He meets a man called Orimbelli who owns a villa on the lake, where he lives with his wife and sister-in-law. Orimbelli soon becomes the narrator’s crew and they sail round the lake, often with women, with whom they have casual sex. However we and, eventually, the narrator realise that there is something shady about Orimbelli. When a tragedy occurs, our suspicions are reinforced, despite Orimbelli’s alibi. Chiara gives us a good portrait of one part of post-war Italy, while also giving us a story where we gradually learn that all is not as it seems.
The latest addition to my website is Esther Kinsky‘s Hain [Grove]. LikeAm Fluss (River), her previous work – this novel is about the travels of an unnamed narrator, clearly Kinsky herself, in this case in Italy, but off the usual tourist track, to Olevano Romano and the Po Valley. This book is coloured by the death of her husband (Kinsky’s husband Martin Chalmers died in 2014). She does observe nature but she also visits cemeteries and sees many images of death, from dead birds to the local undertaker. More in the Po Valley, a wetlands area as in Am Fluss (River), she observes nature and its effect on man. There are no fireworks in this book but a beautiful reminiscence of nature and of death. It has not been translated into any other language.
The latest addition to my website is Tullio Avoledo‘s L’elenco telefonico di Atlantide [The Atlantis Telephone Directory]. The story is about Giulio Avoledo, a lawyer with a regional bank in North-East Italy. He has various problems. The bank is being taken over by a larger bank, Bancalleanza, and he may lose his job. His marriage has problems. The flat where he lives is below a flat owned by a drunk and heroin addict who makes so much noise all night long that Giulio’s wife and young son have gone to live with her mother. Things get worse when there are strange goings-on in his building and he is told of a massive conspiracy, involving Bancalleanza, Egyptian gods, an alternative past, his building and its inhabitants, his HR officer and, inevitably, Nazis. Much of it is very much tongue-in-cheek, with Avoledo mocking conspiracy theories and Giulio proving to be a smarter adversary than his enemies anticipated. Sadly, the book has not been translated into any other language.
The latest addition to my website is Igiaba Scego‘s Oltre Babilonia (Beyond Babylon). Scego is an Italian writer of Somali origin. This novel tells the stories of four women, Zuhra, daughter of Maryam and Elias (Zuhra she has never met Elias), Maryam, Mar, daughter of Miranda, an Argentinian woman now living in Italy, and an unknown Somali man, and Miranda, a published poet. Scego jumps around in time and place, as we follow the Italian occupation of Somalia, its independence and what went wrong later, the repression in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s, the story of Elias, Maryam’s husband who is now back in Somalia and who Zuhra has never met, and his parents as well as the journey Miranda, Mar and Zuhra make to Tunis to study classical Arabic, a key part of the novel, with each woman finding out something about herself. What makes this novel is a whole slew of colourful back stories, wonderful imagery and, above all, the fact that the four women. all happily freely and often wittily speak their minds on controversial issues (female genital mutilation, racism and sexism) and on less controversial issues (jobs, family, Peter Sellers). It is a first-class book – the second of Scego’s book to be translated into English – and one that deserves to have considerable success.
The latest addition to my website is Tullio Avoledo‘s L’anno dei dodici inverni [The Year of the Twelve Winters]. An old man comes to visit a couple and their baby in 1982, saying he wants to write a book about babies born on Christmas Day as their baby, Chiara, was. He comes most years, yet there is clearly something odd about him, not least of which he is able to predict future events and never seems to age. We also have a narrator, telling us of his own messy life. We follow Chiara who messes up her own life, after her father dies. Suddenly, we jump to 2028 and a futuristic London, where all the strange events of the previous part of the book are explained, with the writer Philip K Dick being key to the story. Yes, it is certainly part science fiction but it is also a very clever story and very well written but, sadly, not availabe in any other language.
The latest addition to my website is Paolo Maurensig‘s Il diavolo nel cassetto (A Devil Comes to Town). This is a tongue-in-cheek fable about a remote Swiss village, where everyone is a would-be writer but all have their manuscripts rejected. When a young woman, considered simple-minded by the other villagers, wins a literary prize, word spreads and the Devil, in the form of a publishers, arrived in the village to help the villagers publish their work. The curate of the village, who is telling the story, engages the Devil in a life-and-death struggle. With foxes as the avatars of the Devil, the publisher as the Devil and amateur writers as tools of the Devil, Maurensig is clearly having fun with this work.
The latest addition to my website is Wu Ming‘s Altai (Altai) . This is another exciting tale from Wu Ming, this one set in sixteenth century Venice and Constantinople. Our hero is Emanuele De Zante. He was born in Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) of a Jewish mother and an Italian father. He has managed to conceal his Jewish origins and, as a result, become chief of the Venetian Secret Service. When there is an explosion in the Arsenal, his boss wants a Jewish culprit and he discovers that his origins are now known and he is to be arrested. He manages to flee to Constantinople, where a rich Jew, Giuseppe Nasi, helps him but uses his spying skills. Nasi has helped persecuted Jews all over Europe but now wants to set up a Jewish homeland but not in Palestine. He has identified a place but it is controlled by Venice. So all he needs to do is get the Ottomans to go to war. Blood, gore, death, dirty politics, swashbuckling deeds, all are grist to Wu Ming’s tale in this exciting story.