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Category Archive for 'Italy'

“Tell me the truth,” I said.
“What truth?” he echoed. He was making a rapid sketch
in his notebook and now he showed me what it was: a long,
long train with a big cloud of black smoke swirling over it,
and himself leaning out of a window to wave a handkerchief.
I shot him between the eyes. – Opening lines of this book.

In The Dry Heart, her first novel after the war, author Natalia Ginzburg deals with the “world writ small” telling the story of the marriage of an uncommunicative and unnamed woman married to an even more uncommunicative man. Less than a hundred words after the novel opens, the conclusion is revealed: “I shot him between the eyes,” a statement of great drama because of the context’s lack of drama. Using the woman’s point of view, the author carefully shifts back and forth in time, illustrating what happens, and more importantly, what often does not happen, in this marriage. Matching her realistic style to the undramatic nature of the marriage, Ginzburg slowly builds the tensions, eventually revealing everything the reader needs to know about the past which will explain the bold admission of murder in the first few words.

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“At thirty I had almost forgotten what it was like to be alone in a forest, or to immerse myself in a river, or to run along the edge of a crest beyond which there is only sky. I had done these things and they were my happiest memories. To me, the young urban adult I had become seemed like the exact opposite of that wild boy, and hence the desire grew to go in search of him. It wasn’t so much the need to leave as the desire to return; not to discover an unknown part of myself but to recover an old and deep-seated one I felt that I had lost.” Paolo Cognetti, author of 2017’s prize-winning THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS, continues the story of life in the alpine heights of northern Italy during summer vacations, with his own memoir, THE WILD BOY. Readers of EIGHT MOUNTAINS will be familiar with the area and the personality of his main character, remarkably like his own, as shown in this memoir by a man who has just reached age thirty. Newbies unfamiliar with Cognetti should enjoy an opportunity to share the life of a person of letters who is wondering about the direction he may take – a quiet book by a thoughtful writer for whom the trip to the mountains is a chance to relive times past through the activity of the present and learn from it

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The title sets the tone of this novel, referring to the physical cold of a bleak winter, matched by the cold, alienated mood of current officers at the Pizzofalcone precinct in Naples. Major officers here were recently purged from the department for corruption and possible connections to the Neapolitan Mafia after they tried to sell a shipment of narcotics which had been confiscated in a raid. These crooked officers, most of them veterans, were put on trial for obvious crimes or forced to resign. A whole new crew, many of them old-timers who had never achieved recognition by the department, along with a few “outsiders” with personal difficulties and few friends within the department, have been put in charge of the precinct. These new officers must also deal with the insulting sobriquet of “bastards,” which is applied to them regularly by the veteran police throughout the rest of Naples. Worst of all, the Pizzofalcone station is on temporary status and can be closed at any moment by the higher-ups if the officers do not do an effective job – or if they create further problems for the police hierarchy. Working there is like living on the edge. What begins as a murder mystery gradually becomes a study of characters who gradually begins to trust each other and open themselves to friendship and even love.

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One can almost see the wink and the smirk on the face of Italian author Paolo Maurensig as he begins his dark satire of a community in the Swiss mountains where a formidable adversary has established residence, a place where the residents do not even recognize this new resident as an adversary, though he is the devil himself. Telling a story within a story within a story, the author creates the story of the devil incarnate, who inhabits a literary community in the mountains of Switzerland. Only Father Cornelius recognizes how serious the threat is to their society. Maurensig keeps the action moving rapidly, while also raising serious questions about the nature of good and evil. His use of symbolism and lively detail allows the reader to see some issues which are often discussed more abstractly by other writers, and his dark sense of humor keeps the reader from becoming overwhelmed by the serious subject matter. The care with which Maurensig organizes and paces this novel is astonishing – it feels like a thriller in places where serious issues are being presented – and the build-up to the conclusion is so carefully done that the discussions of morality which one usually associates with a parable or an allegory feel natural, instead of turgid or intrusive here.

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Maurizio de Giovanni’s Commissario Ricciardi’s mysteries, hugely popular in Italy and Europe, are now attracting large numbers of readers from the US and UK. Intriguing, sometimes wryly humorous characters living everyday lives in 1930s Naples, then ruled by Benito Mussolini, provide insights into the period and its fraught atmosphere. For two characters, Commissario Ricciardi and his partner Brigadier Rafaele Maione, “every day life” consists of police work, often dangerous, as they investigate murders and try to stay on the good side of some of their politically connected superiors. One characteristic of de Giovanni’s novels which has made them especially popular is that a group of appealing characters repeats throughout the series, and their personal stories and personalities continue to develop in succeeding narratives. The action starts with a love story in which fifteen-year-old Cettina and seventeen-year-old Vincenzo Sannino fall desperately in love, though World War II is looming and Vincenzo is not able to support Cettina adequately. His only hope is to take his chances in America, hoping that he can find a job and earn enough money to return to Naples as a success. He does not return for sixteen years. Cettina has changed since then.

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