Articles by: Anna Lawton

  • Domenico Starnone
    Art & Culture

    Is Marriage the Ultimate Bourgeois Trap?

    Anna Lawton:
    First of all, congratulations for the American edition of Ties. What was the
    reaction of the American public?

    Domenico Starnone: Hard to tell. It’s got positive reviews, and the readers I met during my tourin March welcomed me warmly. But this doesn’t mean much. It’s a very “Italian” story, and this may be an obstacle. Although, the painendured during a family crisis, or when a family gets back together without actually overcoming the crisis, can be felt by anyone. In fact, don’t we in Italy, and in the whole world, read very “American” novels? The place where a story is born is extremely important, its specific local features are the salt of the story. To erase them in order to make the story work everywhere would be a terrible mistake. It is essential ways of life different from ours possess a heart, and that in their heart beats we can find our own.

    The title, Ties, seems to be a metaphor that connotes family relations. As such, it creates a certain ambiguity, because the ties can be done and undone, and perhaps redone. How is this ambiguity rendered in the novel?

    The ties figured in the title appear only once in the novel, and they are just shoe ties. When the boy, Sandro, realizes that he is tying his shoes in exactly the same way
    his father does, the metaphorical ties—the emotional ones—which had been apparently cut off acquire strength. Aldo, the father, comes back home, the family is reunited. But his return is not a happy one. My idea was that the metaphorical level can be totally disjointed from reality, and that what seems to be a
    winner as a metaphor in reality is a flat defeat.

    Besides the ties, there is an other central metaphor which is extremely important, also because of its visual impact. It is the devastated apartment. This image saturates
    about two thirds of the novel and it is described in minute details. Why does it occupy so much space?

    It was pointed out to me that most of my stories end up in an apartment. It’s true. Apartments are a rigorously defined space, they give us an impression of order and
    safety. But in Ties, the order is only an illusion, and if someone brings chaos to the surface the hidden truth comes up from the bottom. And this does not concern only
    apartments. Any kind of order is only a lid over disorder. And if the pot starts boiling, the lid pops off.

    AL: There is more than one narrator in this story—one may use the term “polyphonic” to describe it. The narrators are the three main characters, and the reader follows
    the individual point of view of each as they define ourselves and the other two. Part one is narrated by Vanda, the wife, through the letters that she wrote to her husband. Part two is narrated by the husband. And part three, by their daughter Anna. Why did you choose this structure?

    I thought it was the only possible structure. I thought of the three parts of the novel as self-contained short stories. Wife, husband, children—although they’re a family
    they gradually grew estranged into separate worlds, and each now has his/her own voice which does not communicate with the others. The reader cannot intertwine those three voices—it’s now impossible to connect them—and therefore he makes them clash. The story is resolved in this clash.

    There are some flashbacks to the 1970s and the youth movement that produced the cultural revolution. What is their function in the narrative context?

    The references to the 1960s and 1970s tell of the end of the old patriarchal family and the attempt to create new ways of living
    together. But the story of Aldo and Vanda ends up in failure, and shows us that we are still in the middle of the ford. We cannot go back. Just
    like in the devastated apartment, where it’s not only impossible to put the shards back together, but it’s even wrong. At the same time, to live amidst the debris generates
    suffering, as it happens with the children, Anna and Sandro.

    At one point, Aldo justifies leaving the family in political terms: “Marriage is a bourgeois trap. By leaving you, I’m actually setting you free, you and the children.” This line connotes Aldo as an irresponsible person, but it also broadens the issue to the field of social criticism of marriage as an institution. True?

    Yes. Marriage is a fundamental institution that throughout history has been experienced as an extremely painful necessity. It’s been wildly criticized, but it’s always come back as good as new. It seems we’re not able to figure out other, less trite, ratifications of love which would also ensure mutual assistance.

    In the Nineteenth century and up to Modernism, the novel contained a moral. But then there was a change in literature. The moral became ambiguous, although not
    absent, and the reader was forced to make his own conclusions. In your novel, the characters/narrators are not very likeable, and certainly not exemplary. Why did you
    make them this way?

    I don’t think a novel must be edifying and the characters likeable. Morals grow old, and what feels upright today it may feel corny tomorrow. Literature has one single task: to tear apart screens, to show what we don’t see or pretend not to see.

    We said that Ties deals with family relationships. In your novels the family is a recurrent theme—first in Via Gemito, then in your latest one, Scherzetto. Why do you
    have this continuous interest in the family?

    The family is the place where the individual, as a young animal, receives the first fundamental varnishing that will proudly distinguish him from other forms of life. But it’s also the place where the humanization process shows its cracks. In this sense, it is an extraordinary and inexhaustible narrative space.

    On this precise point, I’d like to broaden the scope of the discussion and place your novels in the context of contemporary Italian literature. The prevalent theme to-
    day seems to be the family. Of the twelve books in competition for the Premio Strega, more than half were novels/memoirs, reminiscences of childhood and the family environment on a historical background. Can you comment on this trend?

    Well, the family has always been a central theme, often found in extraordinary novels. Today we should examine each individual novel and see how the family setting is being used. We’ll probably discover an interesting variety of approaches. Therefore, I want to avoid any generalization.

    Thank you so much, Domenico, for sharing your views with our readers. My wish to you is that the American edition of your novel will
    help to strengthen your “ties” with the USA.


    Domenico Starnone
    Translated by Jhumpa Lahiri
    Europa Editions, Pages 144


    Ties is the thirteenth work of fiction written by bestselling Italian novelist Domenico Starnone. It’s a powerful short novel about relationships, family, love, and the ineluctable consequences of one’s actions. Vanda and Aldo’s marriage, like many others, has been subject to strain, to attrition, to the burden of routine. Yet it has survived intact. Or so things appear. The rupture in their relationship lies years in the past, but if one looks closely enough, the fissures and fault lines are evident: a cracked vase that may shatter at the slightest touch. Or perhaps it has already shattered, and nobody is willing to acknowledge the fact. Known as a consummate stylist and beloved as a talented storyteller, Domenico Starnone is the winner of Italy’s most prestigious literary award The Strega. Ties is powerfully translated by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri.

    For more info on the book click here>>

  • Facts & Stories

    Washington DC. “In Dreams Awake” Concert Celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the Treaties of Rome

    The signing of the Treaties by the founding fathers of the European Union, in 1957, marked an unprecedented historical moment, setting Europe on a common path of cooperation and development. Italy was one of the signatories, together with France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg.

    The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hon. Angelino Alfano, inaugurated the event saying: “The European Union is a success story. What unites us prevails over our differences, and the eagerness to be together is stronger than any disagreement.”

    Ambassador of Italy, Armando Varricchio, who hosted the event, recognized the contribution of the United States to the European integration process in his introductory remarks: “It is particularly significant to celebrate here in Washington DC the 60th Anniversary of the Treaties of Rome and the start of the European project. The US contribution has been fundamental to the European integration process, with the launch, ten years earlier, of the Marshall Plan and by providing a constant support to Europe’s path towards peace, security, and prosperity.”

    The evening’s highlight was the “in Dreams Awake” concert, with symphonies written for the occasion by Maestro Gabriele Ciampi. The concert began with the piece de rigueur, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which is the official anthem of the European Union. The creative arrangement of the Ode set the tone for the concert that alternated dreamlike moments with passages of emotional crescendo.

    One piece, the Quartet in E minor, was of particular symbolic significance. In Maestro Ciampi’s words, “I want to present the Quartet in E minor, which I composed for the 60th Anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. It is a piece arranged for four different instruments with great emotional force and which aims, through the common melody, to unify their different sound characteristics. The search for this unity is at the basis of this piece, much like it is the mission of the European Union today.”

    Maestro Ciampi directed a group of Italian musicians who played with the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, composed of members of the National Symphony Orchestra, a historic musical institution founded in 1931 in Washington, DC. The resulting ensemble was an unusual orchestral combination, well suited to Maestro Ciampi’s highly innovative compositions. The strings prevailed, with twelve violins, two violas, five cellos, three bass and two guitars (!!). They were complemented by two clarinets, one flute, one bassoon, one trombone, drums, and the piano as the centerpiece.

    For the occasion, a raised stage was set up in the central hall of the Embassy, which transformed that grandiose space into a concert hall with good acoustics. The evening was topped off with a buffet of Italian finger-food delicacies, and abundant prosecco to toast the concert and the Treaties of Rome.


    "Photos courtesy of the Embassy of Italy in Washington DC."

    Anna Lawton is a writer and a former university professor (Purdue University and Georgetown University). She is the author of two novels, Family Album and Amy’s Story, and a number of scholarly books. Among them, Russia 2000: Film and Facts, which won the CHOICE Award of the American Library Association for Outstanding Academic Book. She is also the Publisher and CEO of New Academia Publishing.  and

    * In the first picture: Ambassador of Italy, Armando Varricchio and the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Angelino Alfano at the Italian Embassy in DC for the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Treaties of Rome.