When the going gets tough, Aeneas is your hero. Andrea Marcolongo’s “Starting From Scratch,” Translated from Italian by Will Schutt
The “Aeneid,” unfinished at the time of Virgil’s death, was published posthumously against his wish that it be destroyed. Undercurrents of fear and anxiety run deep within the text of the “Aeneid,” while on the surface, Virgil’s stylistically masterful composure, and the terse, concise elegance of his verses befit a hero who is steadfast, patient and enduring; who battles with foes and with his own emotions, but keeps his eyes on the prize, though there will be no prize for him. As she read it during the pandemic Andrea Marcolongo found the “Aeneid” “a brutally honest poem.” Four months of war in Ukraine make it almost recommended reading.
Keeping the Presence of Absence: Concita de Gregorio’s “The Missing Word,” Translated from Italian by Clarissa Botsford
The kidnapping of Livia and Alessia Schepp crossed Swiss airwaves in early 2011, circulating throughout Europe. The six-year-old twins had been picked up on January 30 by their father, Mathias, in order to spend the weekend with him. The girls never returned to their home in Saint-Sulpice, and Mathias committed suicide by train five days later at a train station in southeast Italy. The girls were never found, and the case still continues—full of speculation, false trails, and theories that have sprouted like weeds to fill every gap in the story.
From “La Straniera” to “Strangers I know”: Claudia Durastanti’s Journey through Languages, Cultures, Genres, and Genders
The ambivalence of Durastanti’s approach to memory acquires a further shade of ambiguity in the English title, which prompts us to question how much it is possible to know about strangers, but also to investigate the limits of our knowledge of the people we think we know and to what extent they remain foreign to us.
Confronted with the absence of her father, Marta Barone does not give up her quest but interrogates, with determination and resilience, objects, places, streets, pictures that once crossed L.B.’s path. Aware of knowing a “poorer version,” simplified and bare, of her father’s story, the narrator wanders around the cities of Milan and Turin, lets the places speak to her and recomposes, trace after trace, the identity of her parent as it emerges also from photographs, accounts of friends and enemies, militants of Prima Linea, Servire il Popolo, and other extreme left-wing organizations.
Pains, Pens, and Poets: Elena Ferrante’s “In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing,” translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein
Part of what makes Ferrante’s work daring is her pursuit of a “female language,” nourished and emboldened by a female literary tradition, and capable of describing women’s experiences with truth and authenticity.
Gerda Taro’s Elusive Afterlives: Helena Janeczek’s “The Girl with the Leica,” Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein
Pohorylle’s story is the inspiration for Helena Janeczek’s “The Girl with the Leica,” a complex, multivocal historical novel that is less a portrait of Gerda Taro than of her entire milieu: young, antifascist, bohemian, refugee, free-thinking, emancipated, and rife with short-lived romantic entanglements.
To mark the occasion of the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, Stanford Professor Robert Pogue Harrison and graduate student Donatella D’Aguanno orchestrated a panel that brought poet and translator Mary Jo Bang together in conversation with Emeritus Professor Marjorie Perloff. I saw the occasion as an opportunity to ask this most creative and skilled wordsmith a few questions about her process, her relationship to Dante, and her place in a long line of Dante translators.
In Sandro Veronesi’s second Strega Prize-winning work of fiction, we follow the protagonist, Dr Marco Carrera, a Florentine ophthalmologist, as he stumbles through a life strewn with miscommunications, misjudgements, and misfortunes.
By Olivia Soule In Sacha Naspini’s Nives, translated from the Italian by Clarissa Botsford, the significance of the long phone call that lasts almost the entire novel creeps up on you. Towards the beginning, the elderly, eponymous widow calls the local veterinarian when one of her chickens has become frozen in place; this everyday conversation […]
I find Botsford’s engaged and voice-driven translation style wonderfully refreshing and the diversity of her collaborations intriguing, so I was thrilled by the chance to talk with her about her recent work, her take on the Italian-English market, and her approach to the craft.
From the very beginning, readers are confronted with an exhausting tension between father and son, their antithetic visions threatening at every step to converge and become enmeshed into the furious flow of Mimi’s narrative which, despite his alleged commitment to a serene composure, is far from tidy or calming. That prose is, after all, the exhibition of a carefully performed identity, constructed through repetition of linguistic and paralinguistic gestures, reminding us of Butler’s idea that subjects are the effect of signifying practices and social discourse (Butler 1999).
Starnone captures and dissects a vast array of concerns in a slim volume, neatly structured and tightly plotted, yet at the same time open-ended, without definitive answers or solutions. “Ties,” in other words, packs a lot of baggage into a small container while also leaving the container ajar, like Pandora’s box.
Three Stories from Domenico Starnone’s “Fuori Registro”: “The Empty Classroom,” “Once Again,” “Dandelion”
A few minutes passed, and I felt ill at ease. Then I recited a poem and commented on it, in that loo: “The pensive father with his goatish hair…”
Starnone’s “Trust” often relies on intertextuality, implicitly suggesting that readers tap into their inner literary database as they navigate this text. The novel, like all forms of literature, does not and cannot exist in a vacuum, devoid of symbiotic interaction with the universal œuvre.
On the surface, “Vita mortale e immortale della bambina di Milano” (“Mortal and Immortal Life of the Girl from Milan”), Domenico Starnone’s latest literary gem (Einaudi, October 2021), has a deceptively simple plot. It relays the wondrous deeds of a young boy, Mimì (short for Domenico) who has a morbid curiosity towards death and is also the protagonist of three tragicomic love affairs.