Top 10 Italian books
I am not really good a making lists. So here, in no particular order, you can find 10 of my favourite Italian books. I hope you will join with recommendations and tips on your favourite Italian book.
If this is a man
first published in 1947, was written by Italian-Jewish writer Primo Levi. It describes his arrest as a member of the Italian antifascist resistance during the Second World War and his incarceration in Auschwitz concentration camp, from February 1944 until his liberation on January 27, 1945.
The book is introduced by a poem that explains the title and sets the topic of the book: Humanity in the midst of inhumanity.
You who live safe
In your warm houses;
You who find on returning in the evening
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a bit of bread
Who dies because of a yes and because of a no
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
Without enough strength to remember
Vacant eyes and cold womb
Like a frog in the winter:
Reflect on the fact that this has happened:
These words I commend to you:
Inscribe them on your heart
When staying at home and going out,
Going to bed and rising up;
Repeat them to your children:
Or may your house fall down,
Illness bar your way,
Your loved ones turn away from you.
Se questo è un uomo ( Italian version)
If this is a man( English translation)
Written by Alessandro Baricco for the Italian actor Eugenio Allegri, and director Gabriele Vacis. It is a short story and a monologue, written to be read out loud and complete with stage direction.
The story is about a jazz pianist, called Danny Boodmann T.D. Lemon Novecento, who was found on the first day of the new century in a cardboard box, in the ballroom of a grand ocean-going liner. He grew up on the ocean and never set foot on land. I found interesting how the author juxtaposes the life of Novecento with the lives of people who can’t wait to set foot in America. My favorite part is the description of the storm as it is so theatrical.
Il mare si e’ svegliato/il mare ha deragliato/scoppia l’acqua contro il cielo
Stacca al vento nubi e stelle/ furibondo/ si scatena fino a quando/non si sa
dura un giorno
finira’/ mamma questo/non l’avevi detto mamma/ ninna nanna/ti culla il mare/ ti culla un corno/
muri neri/ e mulinelli/ e muti tutti/ad aspettare/ che la smetta/ e naufragare
questo mamma non lo voglio fare/ voglio l’acqua che riposa/ che ti specchia/ ferma/ questi/muri/ assurdi d’acuqa giu’ a franare/ e sto rumore
rivoglio l’acqua che sapevi tu
rivoglio il mare
e pesci volanti
Primo viaggio. prima burrasca. Sfiga.
is set sometime during the mid-20th century. Arturo, the first-person narrator, is a young teen who lost his mother when she died giving birth to him. His father largely abandoned him to the all-male island staff, only seeing him in brief spells. These meetings, which fill Arturo with a mixture of hope and dread, typically ended with another abrupt departure, with little sentimentality getting in the way of his father. Then one day, as Arturo is nearing sixteen, his father brings a girl scarcely older than him to the island, declaring that she, Nunziata, is his new wife. Arturo’s Island is a great novel about a boy growing up in the shadow of a penitentiary on the island Procida, in the bay of Naples.
A fortune teller told me
One of the most remarkable story I have ever read. Written by the Italian journalist Tiziano Terzani, this book still remains one of my favourite book.
Warned by a Chinese fortune teller not to fly for an entire year, Tiziano Terzani, a very experienced Asia correspondent for the German magazine Der Spiegel, followed the advice and experienced the most extraordinary time of his life. Tiziano Terzani himself admitted that the idea was little more than a pretext. Travelling by foot, boat, car, bus and train he continued his job as a journalist and visited Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. A fortune teller told me is the result of this journey a sharp witness of Asian society and politics. At the same time his writing his full of passion and tells his personal observations of dilution of Asia and oriental value by the Western materialism.
Little misunderstanding of no importance
Twelve Tales. A secret and bewitched Tuscany, a station in the Italian Riviera, a Baudelairian Lisbon, a rally of vintage cars, a relentless distinguished-looking persecutor on the train from Bombay to Madras… Twelve tales, twelve portraits of ironic and desperate travellers that testimony that Tabucchi loves eccentric characters and their troubled life. In his stories Tabucchi plays the role of an investigator who is not really interested in finding and any answer, but is looking for a sign, maybe an apparition, a message. It doesn’t take long for the reader to realise that the stories are built around the antithetical ideas of fate and choice. In these pages the main character is, with no doubt, disquietude. That same feeling of restless agitation that lingers in the best Italian literature from Piero della Francesca to De Chirico and Pirandello.
My brilliant friend
My brilliant friend is the first of the Ferrante’s quartet of Neapolitan novels.
The story begins in the 1950’s in a poor, but vibrant neighborhood of Naples and tells the story of Elena Greco and Lina Cerullo or Lila as she is known to Elena. Through the live of these two characters, Elena Ferrante describes with vivid and realistic colours Naples, the city where she was born. The two central characters, and in particular Lila, are both fascinating portraits of admirably strong, ambitious women tackling a male-dominated world. Ferrante’s writing style is candid intimate and it seems effortless.
It seemed to me—articulated in the words of today—that not only did she know how to put things well but she was developing a gift that I was already familiar with: more effectively than she had as a child, she took the facts and in a natural way charged them with tension; she intensified reality as she reduced it to words, she injected it the energy. p.123
These are the words used by Elena Greco to describe her brilliant friend’s writing style and I believe they sum up perfectly Ferrante’s own style.
One, No One and One Hundred Thousand
The narrator and central character of the book is the twenty-eight- year old Vitangelo Moscarda. He enjoys a good life without need of working in the made up Italian town of Richieri. Everything seems to change when his wife tells him that his nose leans slightly to the right. For the first time he realises that the picture of himself differ considerably from the picture that others have of him. He becomes obsessed with this idea and he proves that the one and only identity that he seeks does not exist. This is a philosophical novel about identity and it is marvellously thought provoking. Enjoy it with an open and very focused mind!
Dacia Maraini is the daughter of a Sicilian princess and a half Irish anthropologist adventurer and the lover of the great novelist Alberto Moravia. She is a writer and an energetic advocate of women’s right. In the early 1990s, she publicly criticised the pope for urging Bosnian rape-victims not to have abortion. This provoked the wild headline in a prominent Catholic newspaper: ” Che la Maraini taccia” ( Maraini: shout up)
In fact it seems that people have been trying to silence La Maraini for decades and during her career she has been prosecuted five times for obscenity. This book is a Mystery book and it is not her masterpiece, but ( regardless I do not like Mystery book) I like it from the title: voci. Voices of women. Once again in her books she gives voice to silenced female. And in this book she does it in a completely unknown way.
Dacia Maraini in her young life was imprisoned with her parents, in a Japanese labour camp for their refusal to support the Japanese-Fascist Alliance. This experience led her to aphasia. ” For a long time afterwards I could not speak” she said.
The Wine Dark Sea
The sea in question is not the Aegean even if the expression appears dozen of times in Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The sea in question is the Mediterranean. Leonardo Sciascia is a master in writing short stories about social and political topics pertinent to his native Sicily. The book is a collection of short stories and my favourite one is with no doubt ” The long crossing”. This is the tragicomic tale of Sicilian immigrants who are tricked by one of their own into thinking that they have crossed the ocean to America when in fact they have merely sailed to another part of Sicily.
Italian Falk Tales
The last book I have chosen is dedicated to young readers. Two hundred Italy’s traditional folktales retold by Italo Calvino so wondrously.
Kings and peasants, saints and ogres along with an array of the most extraordinary plants and animals. The tone is humorous and earthy, playful and nonsensical, or noble and mysterious, the drama unfolds strictly according to the joyous logic of imagination.
“I believe in this – Italo Calvino said- tales are true. Taken all together, they offer, in their oft-repeated and varying examinations of human vicissitudes, a general explanation of life preserved in the slow ripening of rustic consciousness; these folk stories are the catalog of the potential destinies of men and women”.