A collection of 22 short stories from some of Italy’s most renowned contemporary authors. Published in 1993, the collection doesn’t include the more recent crop of authors that have made a name for themselves over the past decade or so (i.e Niccolo Ammaniti, Massimo Carlotto, among many others). The authors contained within were mostly from the generation before and most are geared towards highly literary fiction. Not all of these stories worked for me but the one’s that did really did.
The stand outs: Conditions of Light On The Via Emilia by Gianni Celati - which describes the meeting between the protagonists and a rural signwriter and how the conditions of light figure into his work. The piece reads like a landscape painting, which the protagonist is; On The Never Ending Terrace by Anna Maria Ortese - a very short story which reminds me a lot of Julio Cortazar’s House Taken Over; The Witch Doctors by Primo Levi - two ethnographers travel to a Brazilian rainforest to study a local tribe and learn a lesson about “advanced vs. primitive” civilizations; The Photographer by Vincenzo Consolo - which chronicles a World War II photographer during the allied invasion of Sicily and juxtaposes it with his experiences in the Spanish Civil War; The Big White House by Susanna Tamaro - a story about an unusual relationship between a young man and a very old woman who he had met by chance; Let A Thousand Hands Reach Out To Pick Up The Gun by Nanni Balestrini - concerning an investigation in the aftermath of a bloody shootout between the police and the Red Brigades; A Hunt by Antonio Tabucci - a man joins a group of wailers and sees the brutality of whale hunting up close and personal; Phobia by Pia Fontana - two girlfriends ride the train discussing their different fears and what they mean; The Station Bar by Pier Vittorio Tondelli - by far the best story in the collection, concerning down and out junkies hanging around a train station waiting for their next fix; and Letters To Luisa by Paola Capriolo - a disturbing tale of a prisoner writing letters about his experiences in prison. These stories make the collection worth checking out and I plan on looking to see if any more of these authors have been translated into English since many of them appear in English for the first time in this volume.
One last thing about this book: it is often said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover - and I agree with this - but whoever designed this book and wrote the back cover blurb should be slapped. The blurb says: “Italy is known for opera, olive oil and the Mafia. It is also a country with a famous literary tradition that stretches back to Dante and Ariosto...” Really? Does this really need to be explained to the general reader? The cover art - which could have utilized any number of picturesque vistas of Italy, whether Rome or the Tuscan countryside, or any other generic photograph which depicts “Italy” - instead chose to use a close up photo of slices of salami. Seriously? But should you decide to seek this book out, don’t allow the absurd cover and the even more absurd and patronizing back cover blurb turn you off to the wonderful writing within. The publisher’s definitely dropped the ball with regard to presentation with this one.