Italy: the birthplace of opera and home of outrageously yummy food. But, of course, this country that is shaped like a boot kicking a ball also produces some fantastic literature. I mean, Dante and Boccaccio, am I right?!
But let’s fast-forward a few hundred years. Some modern Italian authors with name recognition in the United States include Umberto Eco and Elena Ferrante, but who else is taking the Italian reading public by storm? Who else has been translated into English recently and is burning up bookstore shelves? Well, it’s a good thing you decided to drop by:
Timeskipper by Stefano Benni, translated by Antony Shugaar (Europa Editions, 2008)
Many coming-of-age stories involve young people learning important life lessons from mistakes or new experiences. Timeskipper is not like these stories. Rather, Benni, known among Italian readers for his satirical style, imagines what would happen if a young boy was given the ability to see into the future/possible futures. This is a tale of innocence versus corruption and the joys of the past versus the anxieties of the present, and the title is pretty cool, too.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano, translated by Shaun Whiteside (Viking, 2010)
Another awesome title, yes? Solitude was Giordano’s debut novel, and what a debut it was (“mesmerizing” , “eloquently moving”). Both Alice and Mattia have been scarred by personal tragedy, and when they meet one another while still adolescents, they stick together and exclude everyone else. Preferring to envelop themselves in their shared pain, rather than trying to move beyond it, these two characters invite us to think more deeply about love and loneliness.
Been Here a Thousand Years by Mariolina Venezia, translated by Marina Harss (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009)
In Been Here, Venezia offers us a sweeping view of Italian history as it was lived by five generations of a single family. Set in Grottele, this is the story of Francesco Falcone, a wealthy landowner; Concetta, his mistress; and their many children, grandchildren, etc., etc. As with any family history, this one includes joys and tragedies, disappointment and delight. A must-read for anyone interested in Italian cultural history.