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Articles by: Roberta Cutillo

  • Art & Culture

    Elena Ferrante’s New Book Hits Italian Shelves

    12 million copies sold in over 50 countries and an acclaimed television series produced by HBO with Rai later, Elena Ferrante - whose true identity remains unknown - is back with a new book, “The Lying Life of Adults” (“La vita bugiarda degli adulti”), set to hit Italian bookshelves on November 7.


    The novel follows Giovanna, the only child of a well-to-do liberal intellectual family, whose pleasant sheltered life becomes unsettled as she begins to uncover the secrets and lies harbored by the adults in her life, particularly her father. 


    From the moment the young protagonist overhears a conversation during which her beloved father calls her “very ugly” - a scene supposedly inspired by a line in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, in which upon looking at her daughter the protagonist Emma thinks “what an ugly child she is” - her world begins to crumble, revealing a completely different reality underneath it.


    Giovanna learns that along with the upper middle class Naples of professors and intellectuals she has grown up in, there exists another desperate, vulgar and lively Naples and that the two are intertwined, even within her family history through the enigmatic figure of her aunt Vittoria.


    The main story is set in the 90s, but in describing her parent’s youth Ferrante manages to also convey the atmosphere of the late 70s, its illusions and myths, with the remarkable clarity and sensibility for which she is known.


    It’s a coming of age tale that spans Giovanna’s tumultuous teenage years, between the ages of 12 and 16, a time of inner and outer discovery, when convictions are challenged and myths debunked. Children learn that adults aren’t perfect, that they do bad things, they lie.


    Once again the author creates a story that is both explicitly Neapolitan yet so universal that it resonates with millions worldwide.

    English speakers will however have to wait seven more months for the US release with Europa Editions, scheduled for June 9, 2020.


  • Art & Culture

    Culture Spending is on the Rise in Italy

    Federculture - the Italian national association of public and private entities operating in the fields of culture, tourism, sports and leisure - presented the 15th annual culture spending report at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Rome.

    The report revealed that Italians spent 72.5 billion euros on culture over the course of 2018, averaging 127 euros per household each month. This marks a 2.4% increase from the previous year.

    Household spending on culture has in fact been rising since 2013, after a period of decline between 2008 and 2013, during which culture spending dropped by 4.6% as the country’s GDP dropped 1.6% and overall consumer spending rose 1%. Then the trend was reversed so that over the last five years, culture spending rose 13.4% while GDP increased 9.9% and overall consumer spending 8.8%.

    Researchers also found that museum visitors went up 10% between 2017 and 2018 and so did the number of children discovering art and culture by visiting museums and archaeological sites and attending shows. During the presentation, culture minister Dario Franceschini spoke to the importance of “investing in young people and the contemporary.”

    However, though the trend is certainly encouraging, not all of the report’s findings were so positive. For example, it also shows that Italians are reading less and less, with only 40% reading one or more books per year. A problem Federculture proposes to address by developing legislation aimed at consolidating the habit of reading and laws to support bookselling activities.

    The report also highlights strong regional imbalances: culture spending is significantly higher in the North of Italy and lower in Southern regions and islands. In Trentino Alto Adige, a family spends on average 178.8 euro in culture each month, while in Calabria that number is down to 64.3 euro.

    It also appears that autonomous museums perform better, especially with regards to customer service and satisfaction (accessibility, visitor services, etc.) Autonomously managed museums saw a larger increase in visitors (+14.8% compared to +10.2% in total public museum visits) and in income (+22.5% compared to +18.4%.)

    As Minister Franceschini stated, “Culture is strategic to the sustainable growth of Italy, who has always made beauty, art and creativity fundamental traits of its identity.” And for this reason, in sharing the data gathered, Federculture also argues in favor of implementing public policies that will help continue to increase culture spending and diffusion throughout the country. 

    The association in fact found that spending rose in sectors in which such policies had been implemented, such as museums and archaeological and monumental sites, which did much better than in those where no such policies exist, including cinema and theatre.

    The report therefore calls for the formulation of a cultural policy agenda to increment cultural consumption, incentivate programming and innovation, and favor collaborations between the public and private sector. 

    “Growth, which we all care about, passes through culture,” notes the President of Federculture Andrea Cancellato, “with it we can contribute to the overall betterment of Italy.”

  • Art & Culture

    World’s Oldest Shipwreck Awarded in Paestum

    The 22nd edition of the Mediterranean Exchange of Archaeological Tourism (BMTA) awards the 2019 International Archaelogical Discovery Award - named after Khaled al-Asaad, the Syrian director of the Palmyra Archaeological Area and Museum from 1963 to 2003 publicly executed by ISIS on August 18, 2015 - to the world’s oldest intact shipwreck. 


    The awarding jury is comprised of Archeo, Italy's leading archaeological publication, as well as BMTA’s other media partners: Antike Welt (Germany), Archéologia (France), Archaologie der Schweiz (Switzerland), Current Archaeology (UK), and Dossiers d'Archéologie (France.)


    The wreck, a wooden ship dating back 2,400 years ago, was found 2 km (aprox. 1.2 miles, ed.) down in the Black Sea off the Bulgarian coast by the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (MAP) in 2018.


    Researchers believe these to be the remains of an ancient Greek trading ship of a type that had previously only been seen depicted in pottery, for example in the British Museum’s “Siren Vase,” an object dating back to the same period, which displays Odysseus’ encounter with the dangerous mythical creatures. 


    Though older Egyptian ritual boats have been found in excavations, this one was named the oldest complete shipwreck found at sea. It features intact structural elements including the mast and the planks for the rowers, which had never before been found on such an ancient vessel. It measures about 23 meters (75 feet, ed.) in length and has been kept intact by the unusual chemical composition of the water and the lack of oxygen below 180 meters (590 feet, ed.)


    The exploration lasted 3 years and led to the discovery of over 60 historic finds. MAP researchers “inspected” the submerged ship using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) with video cameras. They also extracted a fragment of the relic and analysed using carbon dating techniques in order to date it back to the fifth century BCE.


    Jonathan Adams, the head of MAP, will accept the award on November 15 in the presence of Fayrouz, the daughter of Asaad, herself an archaeologist.


    Additionally, a special award for the discovery with the biggest Facebook support will go out to the ''oldest bread in the world,'' (dating back to about 14,000 years ago) found in Jordan's Black Desert by a group of researchers from the universities of Copenhagen, Cambridge, and University College of London (UCL.)


    Other contendants included an ancient mummification workshop in Saqqara, Egypt, inscriptions and luxury homes in Pompeii, and Europe’s oldest metallic hand found in Switzerland.

  • Liliana Segre (1938) http://www.memorialeshoah.it/liliana-segre/
    Facts & Stories

    Anti-Hate Motion Passes Amidst Many Abstentions. What Does This Mean for Italy?

    On Wedesday, the motion to form an extraordinary commission against hate, racism and anti-semitism proposed by Holocaust survivor and life Senator Liliana Segre, was approved by the Upper House. However, to the surprise and alarm of many, out of 249 votes, there were 98 abstentions.


    This result caused many to speak out, all sharing the concern that by not voting in favor of a commission to regulate hate crimes, parties such as Lega, the rightwing League of Brothers of Italy (FdI) and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI) are expressing their tolerance if not their support of such acts.


    "The commission is a great institutional result for our country, it has great value," stated Ruth Dureghello, the president of Rome's Jewish Community on Thursday, then adding that "the abstention of some parties is disconcerting. It's a decision that we consider wrong and dangerous.”


    The President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella echoed her, reminding everyone that “We must never let our guard down, underestimate attempts at denying or rewriting history against evidence, with the goal to feed egoism, personal interests, discrimination and hate.”


    Even the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin expressed apprehension regarding the abstentions. "I'm worried in the sense that, some things, some fundamental values, should be felt by all of us," he said.


    Senator Segre was born into a Milanese Jewish family in 1930. As a child, she was expelled from her school, subjected to racial laws, and ultimately deported to Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of 13. She has been speaking to the public, particularly focusing on younger audiences to talk about her experience, to make sure history isn’t erased or forgotten.


    "At the moment there is a need for unity,” she commented. “There should be no room for ambiguity." 


    All sound words it would seem, and yet, somehow, there does appear to be quite a bit of ambiguity on the subject. While members of the current Movimento 5 Stelle-Democratic Party-Liberi e Uguali government, from the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies Roberto Fico, to the Secretary of the Democratic Party, Nicola Zingaretti all agreed that establishing the commission should be a no-brainer, representaives of Lega, FI, and FDI defended their position against it, citing the need to protect freedom of opinion.


    Silvio Berlusconi responded by saying “I must reject with force all exploitation of the vote expressed by Forza Italia.” The four times Prime Minister and founder of the center-right party claims that the left is instrumentalizing his party’s position.


    "As liberals we are against an excess of legislation on crimes of opinion and the motion put to the Senate yesterday, on which Forza Italian abstained, outlined, at the request of the Left, the institution of a new crime of opinion," he stated.


    However, Forza Italia is itself divided on the issue. “We are betraying our values and changing skin,” commented former minister Mara Carfagna, who last year helped pass a motion against antisemitism. 


    While the fact that the motion passed is certainly a victory for Italy - an important step in establishing the necessary legal framework to deal with the atmosphere of violence and hate that seems to be spreading across the country - the resistance to something seemingly so obvious as a law to provide protection against racism, antisemitism and hate is indeed cause for concern. 


    For the moment, the majority of Italian politicians and representatives claim to share this concern, but one can’t help but wonder whether the balance will shift. And if so, when? And what do the Italian people think of all of this? It becomes hard to gage public opinion when we start to see people opposing what up until yesterday were considered to be universally shared values.

  • Facts & Stories

    Making Wine From Pompeii’s Ashes

    Back in 1996, winemaker Piero Mastroberardino had the idea to plant and harvest vineyards in the archeological site of Pompeii, to give new life to the area’s ancient wine-making tradition. Initially covering a limited area, the vineyard has grown over the years and now encapsulates 1.5 acres of the UNESCO world heritage site, divided into 15 areas.


    This year marks the 20th edition of the harvest, which has now become a beloved tradition. The general director of the archeological area Massimo Osanna and Piero Mastroberardino of Mastroberardino wines, one of Campania’s oldest and most important wineries, recently presented the latest vintage, Villa dei Misteri 2012, and opened the doors to the newly renovated wine cellar.


    The idea behind this pioneering project was to “resuscitate” the land’s native wine combining ancient and modern techniques.  


    When the infamous 79 C.E. eruption of Mount Vesuvius obliterated the city of Pompeii, it also covered it in ash, thus preserving to this day the shells of its houses, people, and even parts of its vineyards. 


    Mastroberardino had experts scour the area in search of marks left by ancient grapes and vines, which they then used to study and reconstruct the species and varieties used 2000 years ago. They then replanted them in their original plots and harvested them usung ancient Pompeian techniques gathered through the study of the site, as well as depictions and texts by Pliny the Elder. 


    The historian who died under the volcano’s ashes, listed the grape varieties in use at the time, eight of which were planted in the site’s first experimental vineyard: Greco, Fiano, Aglianico, Piedirosso (the dominant grape in Villa dei Misteri), Sciascinoso (or Olivella), Coda di Volpe, Caprettona, and Falanghina. Some of these, such as Sciascinoso, had almost dissppeared so this project is a way to give them new life, according to Mastroberardino.


    The vines were planted following the old techniques, with a density of eight thousand plants per hectare (about three acres). In other words, Pompeii's urban vineyards are jam-packed.

    Which enologists are just now realizing is actually positive since the competition for water and nutrients stresses the vines to yield better grapes.


    The Romans would then mix their wine with such things as pine resin to make them withstand traveling inside terracotta containers. Mastroberardino found that this practice alters the wine’s flavor rendering it “undrinkable” according to today’s standards. After some experimentation, the wine-makers made some alterations to turn it into something more palatable to modern consumers. 


    This new/ancient red wine was named “Villa dei Misteri” (villa of the mysteries) after the eponymous roman dwelling, known for its beautifully preserved red frescoes, which are believed to depict the initiation of a young woman into a Greco-Roman mystery cult. It features hints of vanilla, cinnamon, and plum.


  • Art & Culture

    The Academy Honors Lina Wertmüller

    Launched in 2009, the Governors Awards quickly became the unmissable campaign stop for almost every Oscar contender, making this yearly appointment one of the most star-studded events of the year. But it was the 91-year-old Italian director Lina Wertmüller who stole the show last Sunday.


    Wertmüller was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for the provocative, groundbreaking films she directed throughout her outstanding carreer, including “The Basiliks,” “The Seduction of Mimi,” “Love and Anarchy” and “Swept Away.” In 1976, she became the first woman to be nominated for Best Director for her film “Seven Beauties,” which also earned her a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.


    Sophia Loren was the first to introduce Wertmüller, followed by Greta Gerwig and Jane Campion — two of the four women nominated for Best Director since Wertmüller — who gave their own tributes. The nonogenarian - who spoke through her translator, none other than the acclaimed Italian actress Isabella Rossellini - then charmed the audience with her hilariously poignant remarks. 


    She ended her speach by criticizing the fact that the Oscar is male and calling for the creation of a new female version of the award, “Anna.”


    In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite and the MeToo movement, the Academy has been trying to be more racially and ethnically diverse, more balanced between men and women, more international in makeup and more daring in its choices. And this year’s Governors Awards strived to do just that. 


    In fact, the other recepients of the award included actor Wes Studi, who became the first ever Native American to receive an Academy Award, and actress and activist Geena Davis who won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award as a recognition of her in-depth research into the gender biases in media, and her crusade to repair those biases. The other Lifetime Achievement award winner was David Lynch, a white man yes, but whose work does indeed make up some of the most daring and downright bizarre moments in the film history of the last decades. 


    All of Hollywood’s top celebrities were in attendance, representing this year’s top Oscar contending films, including, among others, Quentin Tarantino, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe (“The Lighthouse”), Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh (“Little Women”), Noah Baumbach, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”), and even Korean Director Bong Joon Ho representing his acclaimed new film “Parasite.”


    All of this served to create quite a bit of anticipation for next year’s Academy Awards, which hopefully will be both more exciting and more inclusive than the past few editions have been.


  • Art & Culture

    Discover Guercino at the Morgan Library

    The exhibition features over 25 Guercino drawings from the Morgan Library’s own collection as well as additional pieces on loan from public and private New York collections. It traces the entire span of the artist’s career and showcases the broad range of media he employed to create his drawings.


    Born in 1591 in Cento, Italy as Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Guercino was a self-taught artist who received various influences throughout the course of his career, starting from the Carracci brothers’ work in Bologna, from which he took inspiration to create figures drawn from everyday life as well as poignant caricatures. 


    The show also showcases various preparatory drawings that the artist made as he worked on creating his altarpieces, as well as studies of engravings, which allow the viewer to understand his process, to see how he worked and reworked his creations to achieve the desired effect. As Curator John Marciari puts it, "It's like seeing his mind at work.”


    Viewers can also admire various finished landscape and figure drawings created as independent works. All these pieces - some well-known while others are recent acquisitions - have never been exhibited or published together as a group. 


    This is therefore an incredible opportunity to get acquainted with one of the most interesting and diverse yet still little-known artists of the Italian Baroque, a rich and dynamic era which saw the production of some of the most remarkable works in the western art historical canon. 


  • Facts & Stories

    Recap - President Mattarella’s US Visit From DC to SF

    The first stop on President Sergio Mattarella’s official visit to the United States was a bilateral meeting with President Donald Trump in the White House’s Oval Office on October 16th. Trump opened their press conference by paying homage to Italian culture and heritage, including one of its icons, Christopher Columbus. "For me it will always be Columbus Day, even if some people don't like it," he said referring to growing protests calling for it to be replaced by Indigenous Nations Day.


    The two leaders then talked about the tariffs the US government recently imposed on a variety of EU goods. Mattarella told Trump that he hoped they could cooperate on trade issues and avoid retaliatory tariffs, which he stated would be to the benefit of no one. According to US Trade Ambassador Dennis Shea, the US also hopes to achieve a negotiated solution but said the EU needed to end subsidies to Airbus and ensure they were not revived under another name. For the time being, US officials maintain they are still waiting for specific proposals from Brussels.


    President Trump praised the investments that Italy and the US have made in each other (he was particularly pleased about the country agreeing to purchase 90 “brand-new, beautiful F-35s” fighter jets produced by Lockheed Martin) but also asked Italy to increase its defense spending, citing the fact that it is currently only spending 1.1% of its gross domestic product on defense, short of a goal set by NATO allies of spending 2%. To which Mattarella responded that Italy is the second biggest contributor to NATO missions and the fifth biggest contributor in funding, then adding that the country is and will be very careful on 5G looking after national security in response to US concerns.


    The two presidents also discussed the situation in Syria, where Turkey began attacking Kurdish fighters and civilians after Trump announced he was moving US troops out of harm’s way. "Italy has condemned and it condemns the ongoing operation by Turkey," Mattarella said during the press conference. The US President defended his decision and distanced the United States from the conflict between Turkey and America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, saying that the battle “has nothing to do with us.”


    Their encounter ended with a reception organized by President Trump to celebrate Italian-American heritage. 


    The following day, October 17th, the President of Italy met the leadership of the Italian American Congressional Delegation and the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill. 


    “I don’t know if you have any idea what a joy it is for me, as the first Italian-American Speaker of the House,” Pelosi claimed, “to welcome the President of Italy to the Capitol of the United States.” She also stated that “Italy is our very best and strongest friend in NATO and so we look forward to continuing, strengthening that relationship, as well as increasing economic ties and strengthening the economies of both of our countries.”


    On the 18th, President Mattarella travelled to San Francisco to visit startup companies Kong and Nozomi Networks (both founded by Italians) and succeedingly went out to Stanford University to participate in the Italy-US Innovation Forum, before meeting with the Mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, and the city’s Italian community. Finally, on his last day, he met with the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom.


    Overall an important and dense visit, aimed at celebrating and consolidating the longstanding relationship between the two nations, and recognizing the achievements and contributions of Italians in America, in this case with a particular focus on the field of technology and innovation.  But this was also an occasion to discuss some of the most pressing issues of the moment. Important topics were indeed brought up, particularly during the encounter with the President and, while the friendship between the two countries is not in question, it remains to be seen whether they will reach agreements regarding certain international issues. 


  • Art & Culture

    ‘Vitruvian Man’ Will Travel to the Louvre, Italian Court Rules

    Veneto’s administrative tribunal rejected an appeal against the loan of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous “Vitruvian Man,” ruling that the artwork will be allowed to travel to the Louvre and be part of the museum’s highly anticipated exhibition dedicated to the famed Renaissance artist.


    Italia Nostra, an Italian heritage conservation group, had tried to prevent the loan, claiming that the work, a drawing dated to around 1490, was too fragile to travel. The group argued that loaning this work would constitute a violation of an Italian law included in the code of cultural landscape and heritage, which states that works from a museum, gallery, archive or library’s principal collection cannot be loaned if they are “susceptible to damage during transportation, or in unfavorable environmental conditions.”


    As Italia Nostra pointed out, “Vitruvian Man” - perhaps one of Leonardo’s most iconic pieces depicting the proportions of the human body according to the 1st century Roman architect Vitruvius Pollio - is among the 16 main works of Venice’s Accademia Galleries, where it is not often displayed, as it must be protected from direct light and constantly monitored. However, it was shown earlier this year as part of the worldwide celebrations for the artist’s anniversary of death. 


    And, as the Veneto Tribunal noted, others among the Galleries’ 16 principal works have been loaned in the past. The court also stated that, according to two of Italy’s most important restoration institutes, the work could in fact travel provided it be shown for a limited time and under the correct lighting circumstances.


    For these reasons, it ruled that the loan of “Vitruvian Man” will indeed take place as part of the exchange agreement between the culture ministers of Italy and France dating back to September 24, an initiative which itself proved difficult to carry out and was met with great criticism. In exchange for the works lent from Italy, the Louvre has agreed to send two Raphael paintings to Rome next year in occasion of the painter’s own 500th anniversary of death.


    Italia Nostra was obviously unhappy with the ruling, stating that this was “not a good day for protection in Italy.” Others were more pleased, including Italian cultural minister Dario Franceschini who tweeted “Now the great Italo-French cultural operation of the two exhibits on Leonardo in Paris and Raphael in Rome can begin.” 


    But while this issue appears to be resolved, similar debates are sparking regarding other works involved in the Italy-France exchange agreement. A member of the Uffizi Galleries’ scientific committee, Tomaso Montanari, now claims that two Leonardo paintings that have already left for Paris, “Study of a Landscape” (1437) and “The Adoration of the Magi” (1481), are on the Uffizi’s list of “unmovable objects.”


    The art historian argues that the fact that they were allowed to travel despite this, is a sign that politicians are now in charge of Italy’s cultural heritage instead of scientists and experts. “Scientific knowledge should have priority over politics,” he said.


    Uffizi Director Eike Schmidt replied that the works will obviously be moved and displayed with extreme care and kept under their ideal prescribed conditions. “From a conservation point of view, it made no difference if they are exhibited in Florence, Rome, Venice or Paris,” he said.


    Though it is certainly undeniable that such delicate and important works of art should be regarded with great care and attention, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there is more than simple scientific diligence behind the resistence to having works (particularly Leonardos) travel outside of Italy (particularly to France). 


    The idea that France “steals” Italian art is a deep-rooted one. It is often cited jokingly amongst Italians but some have been known to take it quite seriously. Most famously, back in 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa in what is considered one of the greatest art thefts in history, an episode which many argue contributed greatly to the painting’s immense fame. When he was caught with the work in Florence, Peruggia claimed he wanted to bring her back to Italy, her “homeland.”


    This same argument is often used by populist and right-wing politicians to feed nationalistic sentiments. In fact, former deputy minister of culture Lucia Borgonzoni of Lega Nord claimed that the Louvre’s exhibition was a way for France to culturally appropriate the Italian artist.


    Such arguments go completely against the spirit in which the works they claim to want to “protect” were realized. As a master of the Renaissance, Leonardo is regarded as a Humanist symbol. And Humanism is all about celebrating mankind, its achievements, and the universal values we all share. This is exaclty why Leonardo remains relevant to this day, not just as a symbol of Italian cultural heritage, but as a representation of Human abilitie and values.


    As Franco Conte, the lawyer for a consumer’s rights group that opposed the Italia Nostra petition, remarked, the ruling “recognized the fact that art is something that should be shared.”


  • Jhumpa Lahiri
    Art & Culture

    Giving New Life to Classic Italian Short Stories

    As Director of Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, Stefano Albertini states in introducing her, the award-winning American author Jhumpa Lahiri has already done so much to promote the Italian language. Her latest project, titled “The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories,” which she presented at the Italian Cultural Institute Thursday October 10th, is no exception. This anthology contains 40 short stories from 20th century Italian authors, ranging from the most famous, including Italo Calvino and Natalia Ginzburg, to others who are now virtually unknown, forgotten even by most Italians. 

    An endeavor that anyone familiar with the American publishing industry will tell you is not so easily carried out. “Only Jhumpa could get someone to publish Italian short stories in America,” comments Michael Moore, who along with others and Ms. Lahiri herself translated some of the stories in the collection. Many were translated in English for the first time for this occasion, other translations were redone, and others yet were kept. 

    The idea is to bring to the attention of English speakers the breadth and depth of the typically Italian tradition of “racconti” - short stories. In order to do this, over the course of three years, the author met with fellow writers and professors, compiling lists upon lists of Italian writers, then looking for their writings, which were not always easy to find. She recalls spending her Sundays going through the stacks of used books at the Porta Portese flea market in Rome. Engaging in a treasure hunt, sometimes finding first editions, fascinating objects which give a sense of the time they were produced in.

    The fact that she had to hunt down some of the titles just goes to show how timely the publication of such a collection is. These stories and their authors are not only strangers to the American and broader English-reading public, they are also unfamiliar and inaccessible to the majority of Italians.  

    And, in fact, the author chose to publish the book in Italian as well. “I was warned about the negative reaction that some people might have to an outsider discussing Italian literature,” she comments, explaining how her publisher suggested she leave out her commentaries and footnotes in the Italian version. 

    But the more she thought about it, the more she became convinced that she should keep in all her explanations. “There are many assumptions about what anyone who is ‘Italian’ simply knows,” she says, “but I’m not so sure.” Who are these Italians? How do you determine what a true Italian is and inevitably knows? 

    What about people of Italian origin who grew up abroad? What about people who emigrated to Italy? What about people who aren’t Italian but know the language? And even amongst those who were born and lived in Italy their entire lives there are plenty who could still be unfamiliar with these texts. Short stories are seldom, with a few exceptions, taught in school. And many adults might not feel inclined to seek them out on their own. 

    Ms. Lahiri cites the example of an Italian friend of hers who was surprised by some of the authors she chose to include, he thought they were “old”, of the past, associated them with what his parents or grandparents read. “But they spoke to me and now they can speak to anyone all over the world,” she comments. 

    One of those stories is Goffredo Parise’s Melancholy (or “Melanconia”), originally published in 1978 and translated by Jhumpa Lahiri herself, who considers it a “story about wanting to belong.” Though it is set in the context of a summer colony for poor children in post-war Italy, something most of us cannot really identify with, it successfully conjures a highly relatable feeling in just a few pages. 

    The author did preface the Italian version with an “avvertenza,” a warning, in which she states that the book is for everyone who can read in Italian and wants to read these authors in their original language. In maintaining all the explanations, she sends the message that Italian is not a closed language, reserved for a certain type of Italian who attended “liceo classico” and had a specific cultural upbringing. 


    And she regards the fact that she was invited to present the book to Italian President Sergio Mattarella as a sign that Italy is a curious and receptive culture, open to outside perspectives. 


    In both its Italian and English version, the book is an apetizer, the perfect jumping off point to delve into the rich and varied world of Italian short stories. “It’s not trying to answer anyone’s expectations but my own,” the author says, explaining that she was trying to create a new and surprising anthology, made so that everyone would find in it something they did not know.