Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts

28 June 2022

Augusto De Angelis - crime writer

One of the first Italians to write detective novels

Augusto De Angelis had many years working as a journalist
Augusto De Angelis had many
years working as a journalist

Regarded by many as the father of Italian crime fiction, the novelist Augusto De Angelis was born on this day in 1888 in Rome.

His first detective novel,  Il banchiere assassinato (The Murdered Banker), was published in 1935, six years after Italian publishers Mondadori launched their crime series in yellow covers that would later result in the word gialli being used to refer to mystery novels and films.

However, until Alessandro Varaldo's Il sette bello in 1931 there were no Italian authors on the Mondadori list to begin with, as the publishers did not see Italy as the right setting for the crime genre at that time. De Angelis did not agree with this, as he thought crime fiction was a natural product resulting from the fraught and violent times he was living in and writing about as a journalist.

De Angelis gave up studying jurisprudence to embark on a career in journalism and worked for some of the most important daily newspapers during the first half of the 20th century, such as La Stampa and La Gazzetta del Popolo in Turin, Il Resto di Carlino in Bologna and L’Ambrosiano in Milan.

He began his literary career by writing plays and non-fiction and then wrote a spy novel in 1930. But his most successful novels were his detective stories featuring Commissario Carlo De Vincenzi. To begin with, Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini approved of the crime fiction genre because it celebrated the achievements of the forces of order over evil and chaos by bringing about just solutions and restoring tranquillity. However, Mussolini and his associates eventually became wary of Italy being seen to be anything less than idyllic by the outside world.

De Angelis was among the first Italian
authors in Mondadori's gialli series
Il banchiere assassinato was the first of 20 novels by De Angelis to feature Commissario De Vincenzi of the squadra mobile of Milan, which the novelist produced over the next eight years. De Angelis had a unique style and created a detective who could not have been more different from famous characters already popular with readers, such as the eccentric and clever Sherlock Holmes and the methodical, fussy little Belgian, Hercule Poirot.

It is interesting to see how many of the traits of Commissario De Vincenzi have appeared in fictional Italian detectives since. De Vincenzi’s loyalty to his friends and care for his subordinates is a quality shown by Donna Leon’s detective, Brunetti, and his disregard for the rules, unorthodox  behaviour and moments of inspiration are characteristics of both Michael Dibdin’s Zen and Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano.

The cultured and often emotional detective, De Vincenzi, was to become very popular with the Italian public, but the Fascist government eventually came to regard his creator, De Angelis, as their enemy.

De Angelis was arrested and imprisoned by the authorities in 1943, accused of being anti-Fascist. He was released from prison after three months, but was soon tracked down by a Fascist activist to where he was staying in Bellagio. De Angelis was beaten up so badly by the thug that he died of his wounds in hospital in Como in 1944.

Pushkin Vertigo's English translation
of The Murdered Banker 
The Murdered Banker is now regarded as a highly significant novel in the history of Italian crime fiction. The story starts on a foggy night in Milan, when police officer De Vincenzi is on the night shift. He is visited at his police station by an old schoolfriend, Giannetto Aurigi. While he is talking to his friend, who is clearly worried about something, De Vincenzi receives a call about a body being discovered in a house nearby and when he is given the address, he is horrified to discover the body has been found in his friend’s apartment.

He goes on to discover that Aurigi owes a lot of money , which was due to be paid that night, and that the dead body is that of the banker who lent it to him. De Vincenzi doesn’t just have to solve the crime, he has to prove his old friend is innocent of it and he has to do it quickly before the investigating magistrate becomes involved. He tells his friend that he has to tell him everything, or he could soon be facing the firing squad, but Aurigi just keeps repeating that he doesn’t know anything.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other suspects, such as Aurigi’s beautiful fiancée, his future father-in-law, Count Marchionni, and the mysterious tenant living in the apartment above. De Vincenzi is determined to get to the truth and he lays a clever trap for the murderer.

Some of the De Vincenzi novels were adapted for television by RAI in the 1970s with Paolo Stoppa playing the role of the detective. An English translation of The Murdered Banker was published by Pushkin Vertigo in 2016.

A vintage postcard showing how Milan looked in the 1930s at the time De Angelis was writing
A vintage postcard showing how Milan looked
in the 1930s at the time De Angelis was writing
Travel tip:

The Murdered Banker is set in Milan during the 1930s, where gentlemen wore evening dress when they were out at night. De Angelis would have known the city well from his time working for L’Ambrosiano. The opera house, Teatro alla Scala, which features in The Murdered Banker, was treated almost like a club and people in society visited each other in their boxes during the opera.  Milan’s world- famous opera house was officially inaugurated in 1778. It replaced the Teatro Regio Ducale which had been destroyed by fire. The new theatre was built on the site of the former Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, which is how it got its name. It is situated right in the centre of Milan opposite the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. La Scala, as it is popularly known, has hosted premieres of operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini and the world’s finest singers have appeared on its stage.

A steep stone staircase typical of Bellagio
A steep stone staircase
typical of Bellagio
Travel tip

Bellagio in Lombardy, where De Angelis was living just before his death, is a village on a promontory jutting out into Lake Como, at the point at which the lake divides into two legs, the more easterly of which is called Lago di Lecco. It is known for its cobbled lanes, elegant buildings, steep stone staircases, red-roofed and green-shuttered houses. The Villa Serbelloni Park, an 18th century terraced garden, offers spectacular views of the lake. The villa itself was once popular with European royalty, numbering Maximilian I of Austria and Queen Victoria of England among its guests.

Also on this day:

1503: The birth of Giovanni della Casa, 16th century author and advocate of good manners

1909: The birth of partisan Walter Audisio, who claimed to be the man who executed Mussolini

1952: The birth of Olympic sprint champion Pietro Mennea

1971: The birth of footballer Lorenzo Amoruso 


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14 September 2018

Tiziano Terzani - journalist

Asia correspondent who covered wars in Vietnam and Cambodia


Tiziano Terzani spent 30 years working as a journalist in East Asia
Tiziano Terzani spent 30 years working
as a journalist in East Asia
The journalist and author Tiziano Terzani, who spent much of his working life in China, Japan and Southeast Asia and whose writing received critical acclaim both in his native Italy and elsewhere, was born on this day in 1938 in Florence.

He worked for more than 30 years for the German news magazine Der Spiegel, who took him on as Asia Correspondent in 1971, based in Singapore.

Although he wrote for other publications, including the Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, it was Der Spiegel who allowed him the freedom he craved. To a large extent he created his own news agenda but in doing so offered a unique slant on the major stories.

He was one of only a handful of western journalists who remained in Vietnam after the liberation of Saigon by the Viet Cong in 1975 and two years later, despite threats to his life, he reported from Phnom Penh in Cambodia after its capture by the Khmer Rouge.

He lived at different times in Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and New Delhi. His stay in China came to an end when he was arrested and expelled in 1984 for "counter-revolutionary activities".

By chance, in the summer of 1991, Terzani was on holiday in Siberia, exploring the region's boundary with China, when news of the coup against President Gorbachev reached him.

Terzani at first saw life in Asia as an  antidote to western capitalism
Terzani at first saw life in Asia as an
 antidote to western capitalism
Realising that the Russian empire was on the brink of collapse, he decided to stay in the country, embarking on a journey westwards that took him through Central Asia to the Caucasus, speaking to people about how they felt about what was happening and what they hoped for from the future. He wrote a book based on his experiences, Buonanotte, signor Lenin (Goodnight Mr Lenin), which was a bestseller.

Another book, another hit with Italian readers in particular, described how an encounter with a fortune teller in Hongkong persuaded Terzani to spend the whole of 1993 avoiding air travel - a huge challenge in a continent the size of Asia. Despite their scepticism, Der Spiegel again indulged him and for 12 months he travelled only by rail, road, on foot or by water.  It was a decision in which he felt vindicated when a helicopter he would have travelled on did indeed crash, as foreseen by his mystic soothsayer.

Terzani was born into a working-class family in Florence, a city he loved but at the same time despaired of for having allowed itself, in his eyes, to become an open-air museum, overrun with tourists.

Exceptionally intelligent - in time, he could speak five languages fluently - his teachers encouraged him to study law at the University of Pisa, where his room-mate was Giuliano Amato, a future Italian prime minister.

Tiziano Terzani, pictured on a visit to his homeland, Italy, in 2002
Tiziano Terzani, pictured on a visit
to his homeland, Italy, in 2002
After graduating, he worked for Olivetti, the office equipment manufacturer, in Japan and South Africa, enjoying the experience of being abroad but quickly becoming bored with the job. Interested in trying his hand at journalism, he sent a story to an Italian newspaper while working for Olivetti in Cape Town, about the assassination of Henrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.

Terzani then decided to go to America, taking advantage of a Harkness scholarship to study Chinese at Stamford and Columbia universities, before returning to Italy and finding work with the daily newspaper, Il Giorno.  He found Italy’s news values to be too parochial, however, and after knocking on many doors in different countries across Europe at last found someone who would take him on and allow him to base himself in the part of the world he most wanted to explore.

Terzani’s fascination with Asia stemmed in part from his disillusionment with the capitalist west. Left-leaning in his politics, for a time he saw Asian communism as a kind of antidote.

He immersed himself in Asian culture, learning their languages, adopting their dress, melting into the crowd so that he could prowl about without attracting attention and grow to understand fully the countries and people about whom he was writing. In time, though, after his experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia and China, he came to realise that communism was no more an ideal than capitalism.

Terzani's book on the end of the Soviet  Union, Goodnight Mister Lenin
Terzani's book on the end of the Soviet
 Union, Goodnight Mister Lenin
Eventually, he decided the country and the people with whose values he would feel spiritually most at home was India, although the realisation coincided, unfortunately, with the discovery in 1997 that he was suffering from stomach cancer.

He was warned, initially, that he might have only a short time to live, but after treatment in the United States he survived, in the event, for seven years, finding the energy to carry on working and to campaign against western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he visited after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Terzani remained in India, where he drew comfort from meditation and spending periods in isolation in the Himalayas, returning to Italy only towards the end of his life and spending his final days in Orsigna, a village in the Apennines, near Pistoia.  His book, Un altro giro di giostra (One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round), which was in part about coming to terms with his illness, was another bestseller.

He died in 2004 and was survived by his wife Angela, whom he had met in Florence before moving to Singapore, and by his two children, Fulco and Saskia.

Piazza della Signoria - the Loggia dei Lanzi
Piazza della Signoria - the Loggia dei Lanzi
Travel tip:

Terzani’s description of Florence as a museum was thought to be a reference mostly to Piazza della Signoria, situated right in the heart of the city, close to the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery, which is home to a series of important sculptures, including Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women and his Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I, Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, the Medici Lions by Fancelli and Vacca, The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolemeo Ammannati, copies of Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes and Il Marzocco (the Lion), and the copy of Michelangelo’s David, at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.  Most days, summer and winter, will see the square thronged with tourists.

The mountain village of Orsigna, in the Apennines above Pistoia in Tuscany
The mountain village of Orsigna, in the Apennines
above Pistoia in Tuscany
Travel tip:

The village of Orsigna, close to the border of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna about 30km (19 miles) north of Pistoia, was once an important centre for timber cutting and sheep farming. It has been in decline in recent years, although a mill has recently been renovated, for the drying and milling of chestnuts for chestnut flour.  The village was used  for location shooting of a film about Tiziano Terzani , entitled La fine è il mio inizio (The End Is My Beginning), taken from his book of the same name. The church of Sant'Atanasio has some 19th century frescoes by the Pistoia painter Bartolomeo Valiani.

More reading:

How foreign correspondent Oriana Fallaci became one of Italy's most controversial journalists

How Enzo Biagi became the doyen of Italian political journalists

The story of pioneer war photographer Felice Beato

Also on this day:

1321: The death of the poet Dante Alighieri

1937: The birth of award-winning architect Renzo Piano


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10 February 2017

Raffaele Lauro – author and politician

Sorrentine's talents include writing, film directing and song


Raffaele Lauro
Raffaele Lauro
Italian Senator and journalist Raffaele Lauro was born on this day in 1944 in the resort of Sorrento in Campania.

A prolific writer, Lauro has also been an important political figure for more than 30 years.

He was born in Sorrento and as a young man worked as a receptionist at a number of hotels along the Sorrento peninsula.

After finishing school he went to the University of Naples where he was awarded degrees in Political Science, Law and Economics.

Lauro then won a scholarship from Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and studied first at their diplomatic institute and later in Paris.

He later studied for a degree in journalism in Rome and became director of a scientific magazine, moving from there to become a commentator on new technology for Il Tempo in Rome and Il Mattino in Naples. He also studied film directing while living in Rome and taught Law of Mass Communications at Rome University.

Lucio Dalla, the songwriter about whom Lauro has written three books
Lucio Dalla, the songwriter about whom
Lauro has written three books
His political career began when he was elected as a Councillor for Sorrento in 1980. He went on to become Deputy Mayor and Councillor for finance, personnel and culture, in which role he opened the Public Library of Sorrento and established a theatre school. He moved to Rome in 1984 and held a number of Government posts.

In the general election of 2008, Lauro was appointed a Senator for Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party, representing Campania.

He was made a member of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into the Mafia and other criminal organisations and later became political advisor to the Minister of Economic Development, Claudio Scajola. In 2015 Lauro joined the Democratic Party of Lazio.

For more than 40 years, Lauro has worked as a freelance journalist, essayist, screenwriter, author and director. He has written about foreign affairs and politics, brought out works of fiction under the pseudonym Ralph Lorbeer and composed music.

In January 2017, Lauro published a song, Uno straccione, un clown, dedicated to the songwriter Lucio Dalla, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his death. Lauro had previously written three books about Dalla, who was a popular singer-songwriter from Bologna.

Piazza Sant'Antonino is an elegant square in Sorrento
Piazza Sant'Antonino is an elegant square in Sorrento
Travel tip:

Sorrento in Campania, where Raffaele Lauro was born, is a beautiful town in the south of Italy, perched on a cliff high above the bay of Naples. It has good views of the volcano Vesuvius and the islands of Procida, Ischia and Capri across the water. A popular holiday resort, Sorrento is famous for producing colourful ceramics, objects made from inlaid wood and the lemon-flavoured liqueur, Limoncello.



Find accommodation in Sorrento with Booking.com





Marina di Puolo is one of several charming fishing villages on the Sorrentine Peninsula
Marina di Puolo is one of several charming fishing villages
on the Sorrentine Peninsula
Travel tip:

The Sorrentine Peninsula, where Raffaele Lauro worked in hotels as a student, is a finger of land with the bay of Naples to the north and the bay of Salerno to the south. On the northern side, the main towns are Castellammare di Stabia, Vico Equense, Sorrento and Massa Lubrense, with Punta della Campanella at the tip of the peninsula. On the southern side are Marina del Cantone, Positano, Amalfi and Salerno. The Lattari mountains form the geographical backbone of the peninsula and there are many picturesque small towns inland. Orange and lemon trees, olive trees and vines grow on the fertile land sloping down towards the sea.



More reading:

Witty observations that set writer Beppe Severgnini apart

What made journalist Enzo Biagi a giant of his trade

The American novelist inspired by Sorrento

Also on this day:



8 January 2017

Leonardo Sciascia – writer

Books mercilessly expose Italian politics and role of the Mafia



The writer and politician Leonardo Sciascia, pictured in 1980
The writer and politician Leonardo Sciascia,
pictured in 1980
Leonardo Sciascia, novelist, playwright and politician, was born on this day in 1921 in Racalmuto in Sicily.

Many of his novels looked at Sicilian life and how the Mafia operates as part of society, and some have since been made into films.

He also wrote a book analysing the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro, the prominent Christian Democrat politician and former prime minister.

Sciascia was part of an investigation into Moro’s kidnapping and criticised Giulio Andreotti, the prime minister at the time, for his lack of action and for failing to deal with Brigate Rosse, the Red Brigades.

When Sciascia was a teenager his family moved to Caltanissetta in Sicily, where he studied writing and literature.

He married Maria Andronico, a local school teacher, in 1944 and he himself held teaching positions for the early part of his career, retiring to write full time in 1968.  In 1954 he published an autobiographical novel inspired by his experiences as an elementary school teacher.

A statue of Leonardo Sciascia, cast in bronze,  on Via Garibaldi in his home town, Racalmuto
A statue of Leonardo Sciascia, cast in bronze,
 on Via Garibaldi in his home town, Racalmuto
In 1948 his brother committed suicide, which was to have a profound effect on Sciascia’s life.

His first work was a collection of poems satirising fascism, which was published in 1950. A few years later he was awarded the Premio Pirandello for his essay, Pirandello e il pirandellismo.  In 1957, his book Gli zii di Sicilia - The Uncles of Sicily - included his views about the influence of the United States and communism in the world, and about the 19th century unification of Italy.

In 1961 he published one of his most famous novels, a mystery, Il giorno della civetta - The Day of the Owl - which demonstrated how the Mafia manage to sustain themselves in a society where there is little or no moral guidance. Two years later he published the historical novel, Il consiglio d’egitto - The Council of Egypt - set in 18th century Palermo.

In 1965 he wrote the play, L’onorevole - The Honourable - denouncing the complicity between the Government and the Mafia.

In 1971 Sciascia wrote a mystery, Il Contesto - The Challenge - a merciless portrayal of Italian politics, which inspired Francesco Rosi’s film, Cadaveri eccellenti, which was also shown under the title Illustrious Corpses.

Leonardo Sciascia's dedication to Racalmuto on a stone overlooking the town, to which he was deeply attached
Leonardo Sciascia's dedication to Racalmuto on a stone
overlooking the town, to which he was deeply attached
Sciascia’s books are based on his own experience of Sicily and show how families are linked with political parties and call in favours that benefit individuals rather than society as a whole.

Nonetheless, throughout his life he remained profoundly attached to the area around his native village.

In 1975 Sciascia was elected to the city council in Palermo as an independent with the Italian Communist Party (PCI) but in 1977 he resigned from the party because of his opposition to dealing with the Christian Democrats.

He was later elected to the Italian and European parliaments with the Radical party.

Sciascia died in 1989 in Palermo at the age of 68.

Travel tip:

Racalmuto, where Leonardo Sciascia was born, is in the province of Agrigento about 90km (56 miles) south-east of Palermo and about 15km (9 miles) north-east of Agrigento. Sciascia wrote a dedication to his home town which is engraved on a stone displayed there, saying he had tried, with his writing, to portray life in the village he loved. There is a lifelike bronze statue of him by the roadside in Via Garibaldi in the centre of the town, which is also home to the Leonardo Sciascia Foundation.

The impressive Teatro Massimo in Palermo
The impressive Teatro Massimo in Palermo
Travel tip:

Palermo, where Sciascia died, is the capital of Sicily and has varied architecture bearing testimony to its rich history. There are Norman, Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches and palaces and a magnificent opera house, the largest in Italy, called Teatro Massimo, which was built in Renaissance style and opened in 1897.

More reading:


How prolific playwright Dario Fo sought to expose corruption

Writer Alberto Moravia likened Fascism to a childhood illness

Sicily brought to life in Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano novels

Also on this day:


1337: Death of the brilliant Renaissance artist Giotto




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