I don’t care who Elena Ferrante is. I know some people really, really care, including some folks at The New York Times, which just published an article on the Italian author’s mysterious identity. Some people, it would appear, won’t let it rest until they know the name of the author behind the so-called Neapolitan series of novels, which has rocked the literary world on both sides of the Atlantic.
But not me. Every time it comes up, I think, “I don’t care.”
And it’s not because I’m only slightly interested in Italian literature. Oh no. Italian literature is my life. My idea of paradise is being in a room in Italy—any room—where I’m so surrounded by the Italian language, I feel submerged. I read the Ferrante books one after another in the original Italian. I even have a copy of the Italian newspaper article about Ferrante’s identity that inspired the article in The Times. (My partner happened to be in Switzerland the weekend it appeared in an insert to Il Corriere della Sera, and he brought it home for me).
It’s not because professional nosiness is foreign to me. I’m a journalist, in fact. READ MORE…
Last year, a hashtag became wildly popular in the American literary scene for an author no one has seen and who writes in a foreign language.
This year, a different author—one whom everyone knows because she’s won a Pulitzer Prize, among other honors—is taking the nearly unprecedented step of publishing a memoir called In Other Words in dual language format. And—wait for it—the part of the book that contains her original manuscript isn’t in English.
The two authors have something in common: they both write in Italian. That, and they could be presiding over a renaissance in Italian literature (Well, they may be, if publishers, cultural organizations and/or the Italian government exploit this convergence. More on this later).
The first writer is the mysterious Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, celebrated on Twitter by the slogan #ferrantefever, and the second is Jhumpa Lahiri, a British-born, American citizen who decamped to Rome in 2012, with the unusual project of ceasing to read and write in English. (The two have something else in common: Ann Goldstein is their Italian-English translator).
One author shooting to prominence, and shining a spotlight on Italian literature from the inside, the other already enjoying almost unparalleled prominence in American letters, choosing to embark on a courageous path—one which will almost certain provoke curiosity about Italian among non-Italian readers.
Is Italian literature, both in translation and in original form, having its moment? Oh gosh I hope so.
When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Grassano, the birthplace of his grandmother Anna Briganti, he’ll be walking in the footsteps of not only his forebears but also an Italian author whose first book was a cornerstone of one of New York’s best-known publishing houses. The coincidence is more than a geographic one: the reforming mayor will be returning to a family hometown, but also to a place that led to a masterpiece of social reporting and reformist philosophy.
Carlo Levi’s book, Christ Stopped at Eboli (Cristo si è fermato a Eboli), published in 1945, was one of Roger Straus’s first acquisitions: it was “a harbinger of things to come,” according to Hothouse, a history of the publishing house FSG, “a critical triumph and best-seller in 1947.”
The book was written by Levi, a Turin-born Jewish doctor and painter, who recounts a year of his internal exile in Grassano and a neighboring village, Aliano (called Gagliano in the book), for anti-Fascist activism.
Antony Shugaar (editor-at-large, Italy): I’m reading the shortlisted books for Italy’s top literary prize, the Strega (named after a saffron-yellow after-dinner liqueur), which were announced in early July. One of the most interesting is Il desiderio di essere come tutti, The Desire to Be Like Everyone Else (Einaudi) by Francesco Piccolo, which amounts to a psychic autobiography of the past 40 years of Italian life, and the transition from a time of communist ideals to the present. Suffice it to say that the book is broken down into two parts: 1) The Pure Life: [Italian Communist Party leader Enrico] Berlinguer and Me and 2) The Impure Life: Berlusconi and Me. And I’m pleased to say, it was the winner.