Showing posts with label Italo Calvino. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italo Calvino. Show all posts

19 September 2019

Italo Calvino – writer

One of 20th century Italy's most important authors



Italo Calvino was born in Cuba in 1923 but moved to Sanremo with his Italian-born parents in 1925
Italo Calvino was born in Cuba in 1923 but moved
to Sanremo with his Italian-born parents in 1925
Novelist and journalist Italo Calvino died on this day in 1985 in Siena in Tuscany.

Calvino was regarded as one of the most important Italian writers of fiction of the 20th century.  His best known works are the Our Ancestors trilogy, written in the 1950s, the Cosmicomics collection of short stories, published in 1965, and the novels, Invisible Cities, published in 1972 and If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, published in 1979.

Both of Calvino’s parents were Italian, but he was born in Santiago de Las Vegas, a suburb of Havana in Cuba, in 1923, where his father, Mario, an agronomist and botanist, was conducting scientific experiments. Calvino’s mother, Eva, was also a botanist and a university professor. It is believed she gave Calvino the first name of Italo to remind him of his heritage.

Calvino and his parents left Cuba for Italy in 1925 and settled permanently in Sanremo in Liguria, where his father’s family had an ancestral home at San Giovanni Battista.

His family held the science subjects in greater esteem than the arts and Calvino, a prolific reader of stories as a child, is said to have ‘reluctantly’ studied agriculture.

Encouraged by his mother, he joined the Italian Resistance during the later stages of the Second World War, having gone into hiding rather than sign up for military service in Mussolini's Italian Social Republic. Using the battle name of Santiago, Calvino joined the Garibaldi Brigades, a clandestine Communist group. He became a member of the Italian Communist Party, although he would leave it in 1957 following the Soviet invasion of Hungary,

Calvino's first novel was published in 1947, inspired by his time with the Italian Resistance
Calvino's first novel was published in 1947,
inspired by his time with the Italian Resistance
After the war he settled in Turin and gained a degree in Literature while working for the Communist periodical L’Unità and the Einaudi publishing house, where he came into contact with Cesare Pavese, Natalia Ginzburg, Norberto Bobbio and other left-wing intellectuals and writers.  From 1959 to 1966 Calvino co-edited the left-wing magazine Il Menabò di Letteratura.

Calvino’s first novel was inspired by his time in the Italian Resistance. Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno - The path to the nest of spiders - published in 1947, sold more than 5000 copies and won the Premio Riccione prize.

He began writing fantasy and allegory in the 1950s. Il visconte dimezzato - the Cloven Viscount - was published in 1952, Il barone rampante - The baron in the Trees - in 1957 and Il cavaliere inesistente - the Nonexistent Knight - in 1959. These stories were to bring him international acclaim.

In an interview, Calvino once said that the scenery around his family home in Sanremo continued to pop out in his books.

In 1962 Calvino married Argentinian translator Esther Judith Singer in Havana. During the trip to Cuba he visited his birthplace and was introduced to Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. 

Before meeting Singer he had had an affair with Italian actress Elsa De Giorgi, a married, older woman, which caused something of a scandal.

Calvino's tomb in the village cemetery at Castiglione della Pescaia in Tuscany
Calvino's tomb in the village cemetery at
Castiglione della Pescaia in Tuscany
Calvino and his wife settled in Rome, where their daughter, Giovanna, was born.  Later, they would move to Castiglione della Pescaia on the Tuscan coast. He was inspired by the beauty of the area and his last full length novel, Palomar,  published in 1983, is set in the village.

In later life, Calvino visited Mexico, Japan and the US, where he gave a series of lectures in different American towns.  During the summer of 1985, Calvino prepared a series of texts on literature to be delivered at Harvard University in the autumn.

But in early September he was admitted to the ancient hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena where he died on 19 September of a cerebral haemorrhage, aged 61.  His lecture notes were published posthumously in Italian in 1988. They were published in English in 1993 as Six Memos for the Next Millennium.

At the time of his death he was the most translated contemporary Italian writer.  He is buried at the cemetery in Castiglione della Pescaia.


The seaside resort of Sanremo was one of Italy's earliest destinations for foreign tourists
The seaside resort of Sanremo was one of Italy's earliest
destinations for foreign tourists
Travel tip:

Sanremo is an historic Italian holiday destination that was one of the first to benefit when the phenomenon of tourism began to take hold in the mid-18th century, albeit primarily among the wealthy. Several grand hotels were established and the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia was among the European royals who took holidays there. The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, made it his permanent home. The Italian Riviera resort is also famous as the home of the Sanremo Music Festival, the prestigious song contest that has been held every year since 1951 and which has launched the careers of many stars.

Piazza Castello is at the heart of royal Turin, the city in Piedmont where Calvino lived after the Second World War
Piazza Castello is at the heart of royal Turin, the city in
Piedmont where Calvino lived after the Second World War
Travel tip:

Turin, where Calvino settled after his wartime experiences, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont in the north of Italy. It is an important business centre, particularly for the car industry, and has a rich history linked with the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of royal Turin. Turin Cathedral was built between 1491 and 1498 in Piazza San Giovanni in Turin. The Chapel of the Holy Shroud, where the Turin Shroud is kept, was added in 1668. Some members of the House of Savoy are buried in the cathedral while others are buried in the Basilica di Superga on the outskirts of the city.

More reading:

How Cesare Pavese introduced the great American writers to Fascist Italy

The philosophy of Norberto Bobbio

Giuseppina Tuissa, heroine of the Garibaldi Brigades

Also on this day:

1898: The birth of Giuseppe Saragat, Italy's fifth president

1941: The birth of Umberto Bossi, fiery former leader of Lega Nord

The Festival of San Gennaro


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12 December 2018

Susanna Tamaro - bestselling author

Writer’s third published novel was international hit


Susanna Tamaro's novel is one of the biggest selling fiction titles in Italian literary history
Susanna Tamaro's novel is one of the biggest selling
fiction titles in Italian literary history
The writer Susanna Tamaro, whose novel Va' dove ti porta il cuore - published in English as Follow your Heart - was one of the biggest selling Italian novels of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1957 in Trieste.

Va' dove ti porta il cuore - in which the main character, an elderly woman, reflects on her life while writing a long letter to her estranged granddaughter - has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide since it was published in 1994.

Only Umberto Eco’s historical novel Il Nome della Rosa  - The Name of the Rose - has enjoyed bigger sales among books by Italian authors written in the 20th century.

Tamaro has gone on to write more than 25 novels, winning several awards, as well as contributing a column for a number of years in the weekly magazine Famiglia Cristiana and even co-writing a song that reached the final of the Sanremo Music Festival.

Born into a middle-class family in Trieste, Tamaro is a distant relative of the writer Italo Svevo on her mother’s side. Her great-grandfather was the historian Attilio Tamaro.

Margherita Buy and Virna Lisi in a scene from Cristina
Comencini's 1996 movie version of Va' dove ti porta il cuore
In 1976, after obtaining a teaching diploma, Tamaro received a scholarship to study at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, the Italian school of cinema in Rome.

She was awarded a diploma in direction after making a short animation film entitled The Origin of Day and Night, taken from an Incas myth. After returning briefly to Trieste to work as assistant director on a feature film, she settled in Rome, where she would from time to time work for the Italian state television network, Rai. 

She completed her first novel, Illmitz, in 1981 but it was rejected by every publisher she approached (it was eventually published in 2014) and it was not until 1989, when the Marsilio publishing house began a project aimed at launching a series of young unpublished writers, that she managed to make her literary debut with La testa tra le nuvole - Head in the Clouds.

The novel won two awards - the Italo Calvino Award and the Elsa Morante Award - which encouraged Tamaro to keep up her writing.

Susanna Tamaro is related through her mother to the Trieste-born novelist Italo Svevo
Susanna Tamaro is related through her mother
to the Trieste-born novelist Italo Svevo
Her second novel Per voce sola - For Solo Voice - published in 1991 won the PEN International prize and was praised by film director Federico Fellini and the novelist Alberto Moravia, although sales were not spectacular.

However, when Va' dove ti porta il cuore appeared in 1994, Tamaro became the toast of the Italian literary world, hailed as “a unique voice” whose story, while rooted in her native Italy, displayed “an understanding of human lives that is universal”.

The book was turned into a film in 1996, directed by Cristina Comencini and starring Virna Lisi and Margherita Buy. At the Turin Book Fair of 2011, it was named as one of the 150 most important books in the history of Italian literature. It has been translated into more than 35 languages.

Subsequently, Tamaro has written several bestsellers, including Anima Mundi, Rispondimi (Answer Me), Ascolta la mia voce (Listen to My Voice), Fuori (Outside) and her memoir, Verso Casa (Towards Home), many of which have been published in English.

In 1997 she collaborated with the songwriter Ron (artistic name of Rosalino Cellamare) to write a Sanremo entry for the singer Tiziana Tosca Donati.

Tamaro revealed recently that she suffered from Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism, as a child
Tamaro revealed recently that she suffered from Asperger
Syndrome, a form of autism, as a child
She directed her first film, Nel mio amore (In My Love) in 2005, based on one of the stories in Rispondimi.

Since 1988 Tamaro has lived with the crime novelist Roberta Mazzoni, who invited her to stay in her home in Orvieto after she suffered a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, exacerbated by the smog and pollution of Rome.  The two subsequently shared a cottage in Porano, a nearby village. Tamaro has insisted that their relationship has always been platonic, describing it as “a loving friendship.” Tamaro recently revealed that she suffered from Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism, as a child.

Tamaro’s novels have often conveyed her political views, including her opposition to abortion, surrogacy and euthanasia, but she declined an invitation to stand in the 2008 Italian elections on an anti-abortion ticket.

The Canal Grande is one of the attractions of Trieste, a port city with a great literary tradition
The Canal Grande is one of the attractions of Trieste, a
port city with a great literary tradition
Travel tip:

The coastal city of Trieste, where Tamaro was born, is the main town of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Officially, it became part of the Italian Republic only in 1954, having been disputed territory for thousands of years. It was granted to Italy in 1920 after the First World War, after which thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building. It has a strong literary tradition, having been the home of the Irish author James Joyce for more than a decade, during which he wrote A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, most of Dubliners and the outline of Ulysses.  Joyce’s close friend, Italo Svevo, was one of several prominent writers born in the city, including the poet Umberto Saba and the essayist Claudio Magris.  The 19th century French writer Stendhal and the English novelist DH Lawrence also spent time there.


Orvieto's beautiful Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria  Assunta - is one of the finest cathedrals in Italy
Orvieto's beautiful Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria
Assunta - is one of the finest cathedrals in Italy
Travel tip:

The small city of Orvieto in Umbria, with a population of only 20,000, has a dramatic appearance, built on the top of a cliff of volcanic tuff stone, its elevated position further emphasised by the defensive walls built by the Etruscans. Situated about 120km (75 miles) north of Rome, it boasts one of Italy’s finest cathedrals in Italy - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta - with a stunningly beautiful Romanesque Gothic facade inlaid with gold mosaics fronting a building constructed from alternate layers of black and white marble.  The city’s medieval streets are a cultural paradise - busy with cafés and restaurants, bookshops, artisans' workshops and antique emporia.


More reading:

Why Alberto Moravia is recognised as a major figure in 20th century literature

The broad intellectual talents of Umberto Eco

How screen siren Virna Lisi turned back on glamour roles

Also on this day:

1685: The birth of composer Lodovico Giustini

1901: Marconi receives first transatlantic radio signal

1969: The Piazza Fontana bombing


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14 November 2018

Carlo Emilio Gadda - writer and novelist

Author who drew comparisons with Levi and Joyce


Carlo Emilio Gadda was an engineer before he became a full-time writer
Carlo Emilio Gadda was an engineer
before he became a full-time writer
The essayist and novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose work has been compared with the writings of Primo Levi, James Joyce and Marcel Proust, was born on this day in 1893 in Milan.

His novels and short stories were considered outstanding for his original and innovative style, moving away from the rather staid language of Italian literature in the early 20th century, adding elements of dialect, technical jargon and wordplay.

It has been said that Gadda opted for his experimental style because he thought that only through the use of a fragmentary, incoherent language could he adequately portray what he considered a disintegrated world.

Born into an upper middle-class family living on Via Manzoni in the centre of Milan, Gadda lost his father when he was only a child, after which his mother had to bring up the family on limited means, although she refused to compromise with her lifestyle. His father’s business ineptitude and his mother’s obsession with keeping up appearances would figure strongly in his 1963 novel, La cognizione del dolore, published in English as Acquainted with Grief.

Gadda fought in the First World War as a volunteer with the Alpini and was captured at the Battle of Caporetto, in which the Italians suffered a catastrophic defeat. His younger brother Enrico, an aviator, was killed. A fervent nationalist at the time of Italy’s entry into the conflict, he was deeply humiliated by the months he had to spend as a German prisoner of war.

Gadda's most famous work is available in English
Gadda's most famous work is
available in English
During the 1920s he worked as an electrical engineer, often abroad. He spent several years in Argentina, although at home he was credited with the construction, as engineer, of the Vatican Power Station for Pope Pius XI.

He began writing in the 1930s after moving to Florence and joining a literary group around the Florentine review Solaria. He wrote a number of essays and short stories, from the beginning demonstrating a fascination with linguistic experimentation as well as a gift for psychological and sociological analysis. His first works were collected in I sogni e la folgore (1955; The Dreams and the Lightning).

Gadda became a full-time writer in 1940, although between 1950 and 1955 he worked for RAI, the Italian radio and television network. He lived in Rome, alone, in a cheap apartment in Via Blumenstihl.

At one time an admirer of Mussolini, he later satirised the dictator in Eros e Priapo (1945), in which he analysed the collective phenomena that favoured the rise of Italian Fascism, arguing that Fascism was essentially a bourgeois movement.  Refused publication initially for its allegedly obscene content, it was not until 2013 that the work was published in fully unexpurgated form.

Gadda's birthplace in Milan is marked with a plaque
Gadda's birthplace in Milan is marked with a plaque
Gadda’s best-known and most successful novel, Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana (1957; That Awful Mess on Via Merulana), is a story of a murder and burglary in Fascist Rome and of the subsequent investigation, which features characters from many levels of Roman life, written in a pastiche of literary Italian mixed with passages of Roman dialect, dotted with puns, technical jargon, foreign words, invented words and classical allusions.

At once a sociological, comic and political novel, as well as an extraordinary feat of wordplay, at the end of which nothing has been established or proven in relation to the crime, it was described as 'the great modern Italian novel' by Italo Calvino, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Moravia. 

Gadda died in Rome in 1973, at the age of 79.

The Stadio Olimpico is the home of Rome's two soccer clubs
The Stadio Olimpico is the home of Rome's two soccer clubs
Travel tip:

Via Bernardo Blumenstihl, where Gadda lived in Rome, may have been a modest address in the 1940s but today is in a quiet, upmarket residential area in which many of the apartment complexes have swimming pools and tennis courts and communal gardens.  Situated to the northwest of the city centre, it is not far from the Stadio Olimpico, home of the AS Roma and SS Lazio football clubs.

The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome
The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome
Travel tip:

Via Merulana is a street in Rome, to the southeast of the centre, linking the magnificent Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, with its imposing 18th century Baroque facade by Alessandro Galilei, and the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, famous for its Roman mosaics and gilded ceiling. The name derives from family that owned the land in medieval times.  It forms part of the Rione Monti, near the Oppian Hill.

More reading:

How Alberto Moravia likened Fascism to a childhood illness

Novelist whose books exposed political links with the Mafia

The Auschwitz survivor who became one of Italy's greatest writers

Also on this day:

1812: The birth of Maria Cristina of Savoy

1812: The birth of poet Aleardo Aleardi

1897: The death of soprano Giuseppina Strepponi


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