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Category Archive for 'Italy'

In this newly reprinted Italian classic by Natalia Ginzburg, originally published in Italy in 1961, Elsa, an unmarried young woman of twenty-seven, becomes the primary narrator/commentator on her own life, the lives of her family, and the social scene which they all share in a small, unnamed town in Italy during and after World War II. As the only first person speaker in the novel, Elsa guides the action in three chapters, giving personal insights and a sense of honest reality to the day-to-day lives of which she is part. Four other chapters, concentrating on the points of view of other characters, emerge from her parents’ generation – their prewar lives illustrating where they have started and their postwar lives revealing the effects that fascism, socialism, communism, and the partisanship of wartime have made on their domestic lives, family, and friendships. Unusual to the point of being unique, or almost unique, Voices in the Evening deals with the growth of fascism in Italy, World War II, and the postwar conditions – big, complex subjects – but these issues become almost peripheral to the everyday gossip and personal stories on which the main characters and the community depend for their daily lives. The issue of moving from their local towns and cities for parts of the war and its aftermath is treated almost casually, with more attention paid to love stories and their complications, gossip, and personal tales than to the big subject of Italy during the war. By changing the focus so dramatically, the author is able to gain some dark humor while developing a creeping horror of the way in which these people allow their personal issues to camouflage the dramatic changes taking place in their lives and throughout the country.

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WHEREABOUTS does not identify any particular country as its setting, though it is presumably set in Italy. Author Jhumpa Lahiri is far more interested in the emotional reactions of the main character, a forty-six-year-old professor of writing, as she responds to the events affecting her. She is an independent woman, never married, though she has had serious relationships, and she cares about all aspects of her life. Choosing to tell her story by recreating brief episodes that take place in ordinary locations familiar to us all, the narrator frees herself from the necessity of co-ordinating the events of a plot in order by date. Dividing the novel into forty-six short episodes, some only a paragraph long, the narrator talks about her life – On the Street, In the Bookstore, In the Pool, In the Sun, At the Cash Register, At the Coffee Bar, etc. Strikingly, she reveals three episodes from “In My Head.” These talk about solitude as her “trade,” about the unraveling of time and the fact that sometimes she just cannot get up and out of the house, and eventually about her childhood at school when she hated recess though her friends were euphoric. Eventually, she learns that she has won a fellowship which will require her to leave her apartment, her community, her family, and her friends and move to another country for the duration. Readers will enjoy looking back at their experience with this woman, evaluating how ready she might be to leave and take on a new life, whether she is capable of finding some kind of personal fulfillment, and if she is capable of forming genuine, caring new relationships. She and her life will be challenging, no matter what she decides.

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This superb historical novel focuses on the power of words to change lives. In 1923, Curon, situated near the head of the Adige River, about ten kilometers from the meeting point of Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, is part of an autonomous Italian province in the northern mountains. The hardworking farmers and herders of Curon do not speak Italian, however – they have always been German speakers. When Mussolini becomes prime minister, Italian suddenly becomes the required language for the entire area, and the requirement is rigidly enforced. The fascists have occupied the schools, town halls, post offices and courts throughout the area, and “nothing is ours anymore.” Most importantly, the Italians under Mussolini now plan “to get the [Curon] dam project going again,” taking advantage of the river’s current to produce energy. The dam, as planned, will drown their farms, churches, workshops, and pastures, but it will allow the fascists to turn Bolzano and Merano, the two largest cities in the province, farther along the river, into industrial centers. The building of the dam takes over a year, and affects the entire community. “Slowly, inexorably, [the water] rose halfway up the bell tower, which from then on looked out over the rippled surface of the water like the torso of a castaway.” Author Marco Balzano has created a gem of a novel which deals with essential themes related to power, compromise, and choices and the ways people address the future – with words or with actions, or both.

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Very much in the tradition of her previous Neapolitan Quartet, author Elena Ferrante delves deeply into the psychology, culture, and social and romantic goals of characters whom the reader comes to know from within. In the course of the novel, she first presents Giovanna, age twelve, her family, and their friends – those living elegantly at the top of the hill in Naples – and sets up contrasts between their lives with those who live at the bottom of the hill, a much poorer area in which life is far more difficult. When Giovanna decides she wants to meet her mysterious aunt Vittoria, the family pariah, considered a “demon” living at the bottom of the hill, the family’s interrelationships become more complex. Over the next five years, they meet several times, and when the marriage of Giovanna’s parents begins to crack, Vittoria tells Giovanna to pay close attention to their arguments and actions to learn what is happening behind the scenes. Complex details involving all of these characters give new meaning to the “lying lives” of the adults. While these revelations are occurring, Giovanna herself is growing up and feeling her own sexual interests come alive, adding intensity to the atmosphere and more tension in Giovanna’s life. Those who have loved the Neapolitan Quartet will find this novel a good counterpart with its emphasis on psychological development, the inner thoughts and quandaries of its main character(s), and the constant reliving of the past and its mistakes. Book clubs will have a fine time analyzing the “adult” Giovanna as she makes a life-changing decision on the last pages.

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With the latest entry in his crime series set in Pizzofalcone, a precinct high atop a hill in Naples, author Maurizio de Giovanni adds another layer to the characters who have made themselves so intriguing to readers of the previous four novels in this series. With a title like Puppies, this latest Pizzofalcone mystery sounds more like a “cozy” than a noir mystery. De Giovanni, however, is clever. He draws in readers with the action here, starting with the last thoughts of a dying woman, followed by a section in which two people are talking about leaving something – not identified as human or animal – outside in an alley where it will get noticed without delay. The novel then focuses on officer Romano, a hulk who has trouble controlling his temper. As Romano leaves for work, he passes the alley with garbage cans, just as a “broken doll” starts to cry. A newborn baby has been left with the trash. By the time the police get to the scene of the baby, Romano has opened his shirt and placed the baby on his chest to warm it and help it breathe. Before long, he has been asked to give the weak baby a name to help it be “real” while in the hospital. No puppies are mentioned at all until about fifty pages into the book, by which time several plot threads and all six characters are being featured. Gradually, the reader comes to understand that “puppies” are symbolic of lives that cannot survive without help. De Giovanni has done it again.

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