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Category Archive for 'Italy'

In 1984 twelve-year-old Pietro Guasti and his parents arrive in Grana, a quiet mountain village in northern Italy between Turin and Milan. Both parents love climbing the mountains, and though his father, who is at heart a loner, routinely climbs to the peaks of the higher mountains which attract him. Grana, a tiny farming village, has been losing its population, but it is adjacent to Monte Rosa, a well-known climbing location, which makes it attractive as a vacation site, far different from Pietro’s home in Milan. Pietro becomes fast friends almost instantly with Bruno Guglielmina, a local youth his age who is in charge of his family’s cows. Together they explore the mountain, the abandoned farms, a former school, and other places testifying to the decline of the village economy but fascinating for the images they conjure for the boys. The action throughout is quiet and thought-provoking, leaving the reader to sort through the various subplots and what they mean to both Pietro and Bruno as they try to find personal, emotional success – a sense of achievement based on effort and care for others. As this coming-of-age novel expands its themes and its characters, some face a future which they may not have been expecting. A surprising and very satisfying novel certain to appeal to those who appreciate understated, leisurely writing with much of value to say, and certainly to book clubs.

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Daniele Mallarico, in his seventies, is on his way from Milan to Naples, where he has agreed care for his four-year-old grandson Mario for three days so that his daughter and son-in-law can attend a professional mathematics conference. Daniele, already late with the illustrations he has agreed to supply for a new edition of Henry James’s “The Jolly Corner,” has been ill, and he and his daughter have not been close, even during and after his recent surgery. He has not seen his only grandchild for two years, but the house where he will be staying is the one in which he grew up – and where has left ghosts – part of an elegant, centuries-old building overlooking the busy Piazza Garibaldi in Naples. Mallarico’s arrival in Naples begins author Domenico Starnone’s novel and is quite different from what one would expect from the above summary, the many blurbs on-line and printed on the book’s back cover, and the novel’s obviously “cute” cover illustration. For unknown reasons, the chosen cover shows ghostly images of a curious school-age girl exploring a modern, painted bureau, neither of which plays any role in this important literary novel. This novel is serious, not cute, despite its innate charm. Here the author uses irony and dark humor for his primary dramatic effects, contrasting the age and thinking of the elderly grandfather and his precocious grandson as he raises questions about how we become who we are, and what, if anything we can do about it.

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Just when you might think Maurizio de Giovanni’s Neapolitan mystery series cannot get much better, he outdoes himself, building on everything he has been doing in the past seven novels in this series and creating this one, further developing the most delightful aspects of his characters and their relationships to date, and adding to them in complex ways which I suspect every fan will celebrate. In this novel, author Maurizio de Giovanni retains all the characters and relationships which fans of the series already delight in, and his sense of humor is more obvious here than it is in several of his previous novels. Though the nature of the murder in question (that of a loan shark), its victim and killer, and the motivations for it are well developed, many readers will become more interested in the psychological and social interactions of the characters than in the mystery itself, a situation common in de Giovanni’s work. De Giovanni, consummately aware of the need to provide background information to new readers, dedicates a page or two to each of the major players, and In the course of the novel, several favorite characters also make the equivalent of “guest appearances,” including Dr. Modo, the irreverent coroner who will say anything, the transvestite prostitute Bambinella, who often serves as an informant, and Don Pierino, the tiny priest from I Will Have Vengeance, the first novel in the series, who becomes a counselor both for Enrica’s father and for Commissario Ricciardi. Great fun.

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With an introduction written by Jhumpa Lahiri, Domenico Starnone’s TIES gets a warm endorsement for this short but densely thematic novel about the ties and connections among four members of one family after the father decides to leave home to live with a much younger woman. Following the family through three plot sections which move from the children’s early childhood until the parents are in their 70s and the children in their 40s, the novel deals with the fact that we can put into “boxes” many aspects of our past and sometimes our present, but our ability to keep those boxes closed and “tied” depends on our emotional health and determination. Additional themes are concerned with aging, with making commitments, with planning for the future (as opposed to living for the moment), with how we define love and its connection to freedom, and with our search for contentment and whether it can be construed as a kind of love, adding density to the themes. Even the relationship between parents and children and how those are tied by a complex relationship that involves elements of both love and obligation is illustrated here. Though this novel is short, it feels much longer and much broader, without becoming tedious or turning into an allegory. Starnone, aided by his sensitive translator, makes every word count in this domestic novel of big ideas, and he keeps the story exciting at the same time.

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Within a swirling time frame and several settings which change suddenly through unexpected flashbacks, Italian author Erri De Luca creates a character whose life breathes with subdued passion and the tragedy of sudden terror. Now fifty, the unnamed speaker is working as a gardener/landscaper on a large estate in Italy owned by Mimmo, a filmmaker, someone the speaker knew when they were youths in Turin. Leading a solitary life, the speaker is surprised one evening when an attractive younger woman flirts with him while she is eating lunch with another man at a tavern. After she’s gone, he plans what he might say if he were to see her again. He has had little social contact with other people in recent years, using his gardening skills and his connection with nature for his satisfaction – “caring more about it than about people.” For twenty years he lived in Argentina, participating in the “dirty war” there, “days filled with trouble, ruined by death that tears away clumps of us folks, stuffs thousands of the living, freshly plucked, into its sack.” As he tries to sort out his life, the reader learns of his marriage there, his traumas, and his wandering life since then, and as the speaker contemplates the meaning of his present condition, the novel works its way up to a grand climax and startling finale. Themes related to life and death, war and peace, fear and commitment, and responsibility and self-preservation combine to affect the conclusion. Erri De Luca has been described by Milan’s daily newspaper Corriere della Serra as “the only true first-rate writer that the new millennium has given us for now.”

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