15 votes

International literature #1: Italian

This is the first post (a test post, to see if there is any interest) of a series of posts where we can share our favourite texts in foreign languages. I will try to include the large languages, and some small as well. You're welcome to request a language too. So, without further ado:

What are your favourite texts originally written in Italian?

15 comments

  1. cadadr Link
    Great idea! I'd be glad to participate in these threads! I studied Italian literature in my BA. Italian literature is packed with gems, some a little obscure. Dino Buzzati is a great author. His...
    • Exemplary x2

    Great idea! I'd be glad to participate in these threads!

    I studied Italian literature in my BA. Italian literature is packed with gems, some a little obscure.

    Dino Buzzati is a great author. His famous Il deserto dei tartari "The Tartar Step" is indeed a great novel, but do not ignore his less famous short story collection La boutique del mistero ("The boutiqe of mystery", IDK if translated to english). Unlike Il deserto, the short stories in La boutique are fast paced and exciting in their own way. Hospitals and illnesses are a recurrent theme. He's called the Italian Kafka; I believe he's way better than Kafka because you can actually read Buzzati w/o becoming suicidal /s (I think Kafka is terribly overrated).

    Cesare Pavese. La casa in collina ("The House upon the Hill", IDK if translated) is a beautiful, partly autobiographical novel set in WWII, Turin's periphery. A great exposé of normal life and quotidian joys and travails trying to survive under the siege of modern killing machines. The tragedy of a man that could not be as brave as he wanted. Great read. Then, there is La luna e i falò "The House and the Bonfires" is set in postwar Santo Stefano Belbo, close to Turin.

    Pavese is also an incredibly good poet. His well known poems include Anche tu sei collina and The cats will know. I prefer his later poetry where he is less of a "naturalist".

    Continuing the WWII theme, Primo Levi's Se questo è un uomo "If This is a Man" is one of those texts that must be required reading for the entirety of humanity. It is his memoir-narrative of his time in lagers, written (partly, IIRC) while he was there. Unlike some other literature on the same topic, which depict the cruelty of war, Nazi, etc., this text tells how Jews were reduced to non-persons from within. Not many Nazis appear, but what they did to ordinary people. I really suggest reading Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt too, where you find a broader look at how Nazis manipulated peoples into annihilation, and got them to help their own death.

    Italo Calvino was mentioned by @acdw, to add to their suggestions, let me name a few other texts: the three novellas that comprise I nostri antenati "Our Ancestors" are mas-ter-piece-s! I will not spoil it for you, but just say: three of the greates pieces of literature ever produced. Then, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno "The Path to the Nest of Spiders" is Calvino's take at WWII, where we watch Pin, a teenager, join i partigiani, the anti-fascist partisan warriors. It is unlike Pavese or Levi where it is a coming-of-age story and a rather light read (I was in tears after reading Levi, and Pavese can be depressing). Marcovaldo and Under the Jaguar Sun are his short story collections I read, I loved Marcovaldo, but I only vaguely remember the other one.

    A more contemporary author, albeit (recent-ish-ly) deceased, is Antonio Tabucchi. One of my favourite authors. Clearly influenced by Portuguese literature, and by Fernando Pessoa in particular, his works revolve around themes like saudade and "narrativised philosophical ramblings". Sostiene Pereira "Pereira Maintains" is written like an investigation report about a political dissident in Salazar's Portugal. Mr. Pereira is not really an activist, but certain events cause him to participate in political opposition under a fascist government. It is a rather usual work of narrative when compared to Si sta facendo sempre più tardi "It's Getting Later All the Time" which is a complex post-modern thing which I loved but did not really understand (I read it in the second year of my studying Italian, and my knowledge of the language impeded my full comprehension and fluent reading of the book). It is a text where (sometimes pseudo-)philosophical rants and ramblings intermix with analepses and memories, with a general feeling of saudade, melancholy and nostalgia. One of those texts that are great reads but sound lame when talking about them. Beware that Tabucchi's general tendency to play with the language makes almost a peak in this book (and possibly peaks in Piccoli equivoci senza importanza, which is what I'll read next from him). Gli ultimi tre giorni di Fernando Pessoa is interesting too, the pseudonyms of Pessoa visit Pessoa in his death bed.

    I am reading Pirandello's Il fu Mattia Pascal currently, which is an interesting story where Mattia Pascal, missing for a few days, finds out that his family and his social circles believe him dead, and unhappy with his normal life, tries living pseudonymously a life he designed. But he can't keep up perpetually playing his new persona like a theatre actor, and tries to return to his hometown, only to find that he's totally forgotten. Pirandello is a great author, of both novels and theatre plays. Sei personaggi in cerca di autore is genius.

    Poetry is big in Italian literature, but I did not get to read a lot yet, unfortunately. Montale is good, but rather difficult to read. Medieval, Dolce Stil Nuovo and Humanist poets are great. I like Guido Cavalcanti. Guess everybody knows Dante and Petrarca.

    If we'll include Latin too, go read Satyricon by Petronius Arbiter, a host of absurd but good antique queer humor in multiple and diverse Roman settings, from luxurious parties to deadly seafaring.

    My education was not really that good, but still, AmA.

    3 votes
  2. [12]
    Kelsier Link
    Hey OP, fantastic idea but I think a better approach would be to do this by country instead of language, since many countries are multilingual and there are some great authors which would be left...

    Hey OP, fantastic idea but I think a better approach would be to do this by country instead of language, since many countries are multilingual and there are some great authors which would be left out due to this format.
    Also there are many authors who write in English but are not from english speaking countries.
    Haven't read any Italian literature so can't really comment on it, but I am open to recommendations.

    4 votes
    1. [4]
      iiv Link Parent
      Great feedback! If I get some more replies here I'll do a country next week.

      Great feedback! If I get some more replies here I'll do a country next week.

      2 votes
      1. [3]
        cadadr Link Parent
        I disagree the above comment because I don't see a necessary distinction between a work of literature written in American English and say another in Australian English. And what is a country? It's...

        I disagree the above comment because I don't see a necessary distinction between a work of literature written in American English and say another in Australian English. And what is a country? It's ephemeral. Would Romans or Provençal troubadours count Italian? Is Samuel Beckett English or French? Are pre-Republic Armenian writers Ottoman, Turkish, or Armenian (with respect to what Armenia is today)?

        I think languages are a better parameter, it is clearer and more material, and less prone to controversy.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          Kelsier (edited ) Link Parent
          I suggested to do it by country because usually the literature of a country is defined by its history, socio-political conditions, etc. Language is just the medium through which the story is...

          I suggested to do it by country because usually the literature of a country is defined by its history, socio-political conditions, etc. Language is just the medium through which the story is expressed.
          Would the story be any less interesting if it was in another language?

          I don't see a necessary distinction between a work of literature written in American English and say another in Australian English.

          I agree with you, but the point isn't about English. We refer to literature by countries for a reason after all (American, French, Russian literature,etc). It's because they are unique to that country/geographical area.

          And besides, most people will be reading translated works (so any intricacies unique to that language would be lost anyways).

          I am not disagreeing with your opinion, just providing an alternate take on the subject.

          Edit - I am perfectly fine with both options, so whatever the community would like as a whole should be done :)

          2 votes
          1. cadadr Link Parent
            There are many similar situations apart from English, e.g. French, Spanish, Portuguese, where there is a one to many relationship between language vs. nation. That's a dated and simplistic view....

            I agree with you, but the point isn't about English.

            There are many similar situations apart from English, e.g. French, Spanish, Portuguese, where there is a one to many relationship between language vs. nation.

            We refer to literature by countries for a reason after all (American, French, Russian literature,etc). It's because they are unique to that country/geographical area.

            That's a dated and simplistic view. Even in ancient times texts and themes and styles tended to be transcend political, societal and linguistic boundaries.

            I am not disagreeing with your opinion, just providing an alternate take on the subject.

            No problem! This is a productive disagreement, something useful and good. I wouldn't mind which way either, but I do think going with languages instead of countries can prevent some potential controversy and confusion.

    2. [7]
      iiv Link Parent
      Okay, now I have two differing opinions to take in mind, when @cadadr replied. And to be fair, I agree with them more. There's nothing stopping me from having Hindi one week and Punjabi another,...

      Okay, now I have two differing opinions to take in mind, when @cadadr replied. And to be fair, I agree with them more.

      many countries are multilingual and there are some great authors which would be left out due to this format

      There's nothing stopping me from having Hindi one week and Punjabi another, so I don't think any authors would be left out because of the format.

      Also there are many authors who write in English but are not from english speaking countries.

      Fair, but the point of this isn't to discuss authors who write in English, most people on Tildes already speak English. But if you want to, you could for example mention Nabokov in the thread about Russian.

      1 vote
      1. [6]
        cfabbro (edited ) Link Parent
        There is nothing stopping you from asking, but there is something potentially stopping people from answering. One of the reason I chose to take your questions as including Latin/Greek too, so long...

        There's nothing stopping me from having Hindi one week and Punjabi another, so I don't think any authors would be left out because of the format.

        There is nothing stopping you from asking, but there is something potentially stopping people from answering. One of the reason I chose to take your questions as including Latin/Greek too, so long as the author was Italian, was because I haven't read many works of literature that were originally in Italian... and isn't the country/region the author came from often the more important distinguishing characteristic of their literature, not the language in which it was first expressed? E.g. An author who writes in English from Canada is going to have a very different perspective on the world than one from Ireland even though they write in the same language, but two authors from Canada at least share some heritage, history and culture.

        1 vote
        1. [5]
          cadadr Link Parent
          I think both are scarcely relevant, provenance or language. Especially for more recent works. But language lends itself better for neutral categorisation, as I said elsewhere. I don't think there...

          isn't the country/region the author came from often the more important distinguishing characteristic of their literature, not the language in which it was first expressed?

          I think both are scarcely relevant, provenance or language. Especially for more recent works. But language lends itself better for neutral categorisation, as I said elsewhere. I don't think there are many texts out there that are multilingual enough to not have a main language they are written in. But countries/nations are rather ephemeral and arbitrary groupings of people, and not everybody thinks of them the same way (will we include Northern Cyprus or Kosovo? what is the country of an author from Crimea or Nagorno-Karabakh or Catalunya? who owns $CONTROVERSIAL_AUTHOR? and so on).

          1 vote
          1. [4]
            cfabbro Link Parent
            Nation States, Countries and their borders are ephemeral and often in flux, however the shared heritage, history and culture of the people in a region and the geography that defines that region...

            Nation States, Countries and their borders are ephemeral and often in flux, however the shared heritage, history and culture of the people in a region and the geography that defines that region are not... Hence why I said region as well. And to try and claim that those elements play no part in the literature produced in a region is patently absurd IMO.

            1 vote
            1. [3]
              cadadr Link Parent
              That is not even nearly what I said. I just say language is an easier parameter, and country, region, heritage etc. involve vast grey areas. Edit: for example, as someone who studied Italian and...

              And to try and claim that those elements play no part in the literature produced in a region is patently absurd IMO.

              That is not even nearly what I said. I just say language is an easier parameter, and country, region, heritage etc. involve vast grey areas.

              Edit: for example, as someone who studied Italian and Roman history as part of his bachelor's I find it to be rather a stretch to count Aurelius an Italian, or to count Latin literature as automatically Italian. But that the emperor wrote in Latin and that Latin is Latin is hardly disputable.

              1 vote
              1. [2]
                cfabbro Link Parent
                Fair enough... sorry for so badly misinterpreting what you said. In my defense, I was operating on 2 hours of sleep at the time. I really need to stop commenting here when I'm that tired. :P

                Fair enough... sorry for so badly misinterpreting what you said. In my defense, I was operating on 2 hours of sleep at the time. I really need to stop commenting here when I'm that tired. :P

                1 vote
                1. cadadr Link Parent
                  No worries! I am guilt of "sleep-posting" at times too.

                  No worries! I am guilt of "sleep-posting" at times too.

                  1 vote
  3. cfabbro (edited ) Link
    I'm going to choose to take this question as including any book originally in Latin (or Greek) too, so long as they were written by an Italian author, since that opens up a lot more possibilities...

    I'm going to choose to take this question as including any book originally in Latin (or Greek) too, so long as they were written by an Italian author, since that opens up a lot more possibilities for me, especially given my interest in Roman history (from Kingdom through to Empire, military through philosophy). :)

    With that in mind, my choice would be Meditations by Emperor Marcus Aurelius

    It's a product of its time, and I definitely don't agree with everything he says... e.g. I don't believe that people are never subjected to more than they can endure, or that the motivations of the Gods are unknowable (since I don't believe in any). However his insights into human nature, both the best and worst aspects of it, is virtually unparalleled. I also think it's remarkable how little has fundamentally changed about our nature in all this time, and more remarkable still is that even he was clearly keenly aware of that fact nearly 1900 years ago, which leads me to believe the lack of change has been going on far longer still. His lack of ego is also rather astounding as well, especially for a man that accomplished so much... or perhaps that's exactly the reason he was able to. It's not at all depressing though, like I am probably making it seem, far from it... one point that really comes across in his writings and musing on life is how we really have to fully embrace and cherish the meaningful moments when/wherever we can and not fret over things we have no power to change.

    3 votes
  4. acdw Link
    I love (LOVE) all things I've read by Italo Calvino, especially Invisible Cities and If on a winter's night a traveler. The first is a series of vignettes about weird, metaphorical cities, and the...

    I love (LOVE) all things I've read by Italo Calvino, especially Invisible Cities and If on a winter's night a traveler. The first is a series of vignettes about weird, metaphorical cities, and the second is a meta-narrative about reading the novel If on a winter's night a traveler.

    3 votes