An anthology of 20th-century Italian literature.
Thanks largely to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, Italian literature has been experiencing a kind of renaissance in the United States. That makes this a propitious time for the release of a new anthology, edited by Lahiri (In Other Words, 2016, etc.), of Italian short stories in translation. Some of the names included here, like Primo Levi and Italo Calvino, will be familiar to American readers; others, like Elio Vittorini and Leonardo Sciascia, may be less so. In Levi’s “Quaestio de Centauris,” a centaur falls desperately in love with a human girl. In Sciascia’s “The Long Voyage,” a group of Sicilians pay 250,000 lire each to be ferried to America and are surprised to find themselves, in the end, somewhere else. In her introduction, Lahiri explains her criteria for the selections included here: She wanted “a wealth of styles, and a range of voices,” and no living authors (nothing by Ferrante here). She’s also made a concerted effort to include stories written by women. Writers like Elsa Morante and Natalia Ginzburg, whose books have recently been reissued in English, have been receiving increased attention; their stories, here, are a delight to read. There’s also a wonderful story, “Generous Wine,” by Italo Svevo, in which a man who has been ordered by his doctor to diet and abstain from drinking goes to a wedding and partakes, liberally, of everything. “I ate and drank,” he says, “not out of hunger or thirst but out of eagerness for freedom. Each bite, each sip, had to be a declaration of independence.” Later, of course, he’s filled with regret. Taken one by one, each story in this volume is a jewel. Taken all together, the book is a remarkable introduction to Italian literature and a great gift to the English-speaking reader.
Remarkable stories from a wide range of writers describe the mundane and the fantastic, the everyday and the sublime.