After reading Lacci a while ago and loving it, I’ve finally decided to read another book by Domenico Starnone.
I read his book Lacci in 2019 and wrote a post about it. In fact, I’ve enjoyed that book so much that I have been meaning to read another title by him for ages.
Needless to say, my to-be-read book pile is as high as Mount Everest, so it took me a while to find the inspiration and the time to read another book by Domenico Starnone. And finally, right at the beginning of the year, I didn’t know what to read and his name came to my mind again.
While looking for some of his books, I saw if I could find a title that was available in English as well, as I always do with the books I recommend here. In fact, as you may already know, the purpose of this section of the newsletter is to suggest Italian books that could also be enjoyed by people who cannot read Italian.
Actually, I managed to find two books by him that have been translated into English, besides Lacci (Ties in English): Scherzetto (Trick in the English version) and Confidenza (translated into English as Trust). I’ve picked Scherzetto only because it was written before Confidenza but I’ll soon read this other one as well.
One thing that might be interesting to know is that all three books have been translated into English by Jhumpa Lahiri, an American author who is quite famous among students of Italian because she has written a marvelous book about her experience with learning Italian.
She is quite a prolific writer and I’ve recently enjoyed another book by her, in case you were looking for inspiration on some other Italian books to read. Today, though, I want to tell you a bit more about Scherzetto, the book by Domenico Starnone I’ve just finished reading.
Domenico Starnone is one of the most acclaimed Italian writers of our time. He started his career as a journalist, mainly writing about his experience in the Italian school system. In fact, he has worked as a high school teacher for many years, teaching Italian and history.
Some of his early books are also about the topic of teaching and two of them have inspired the movie La scuola by Daniele Lucchetti. Actually, other very popular movies are based on his books: Denti by Gabriele Salvatores, Auguri Professore by Riccardo Milano, and Lacci, again by Daniele Lucchetti (based on the book of the same name).
As a writer, in 2001 he won the Premio Strega, the most prestigious Italian literary prize, with Via Gemito, a book that tells the story of an artist who is forced to work as a railway worker to make ends meet. He’s really unhappy with his life and vents his frustrations over his family.
The topic of family is a recurring theme in the work of Domenico Starnone. In Lacci, the writer tells the story of a family of four, first from the point of view of the mother, then from that of the father, and finally from the one of the kids. This gives the author the chance to unveil all the feelings that can sometimes be hidden under the surface of a seemingly normal and happy family.
Lacci is a short yet really powerful book, sharp and cruel as only some domestic behaviors can be. The topic of family is at the center of Scherzetto as well: the book tells the story of Daniele Mallarico, an illustrator from Milan who returns to his hometown Naples and to the house where he grew up to look after his grandson, Mario.
Daniele’s daughter, Betta, and her husband are away for a conference and Daniele and Mario have to spend four days together. Daniele doesn’t visit his family often and he barely knows his grandson. Those four days together will be a neverending confrontation between the old and tired grandfather and the energetic and petulant child.
Those days in Naples, the city where he spent the first part of his life and which he left as soon as he could, and especially in the house where he used to live with his family, are a way for Daniele to think about life and to reflect on what has gone and what is yet to come. He thinks about his successes and his failures, and his overall dissatisfaction with life influences his attitude towards the grandson.
Just like Lacci, this is another book that shows how hard family ties can be. It is not as cruel as Lacci, it makes you smile many times but it makes you also reflect on your personal fears and on your choices in life. It is a very short book but is incredibly powerful and poignant.
The book is set in Naples but most of the action is happening inside the house. However, you can feel the city and its beating heart just outside the apartment and the only walk around the city that grandfather and grandson take together is a great immersion in Naples’s unique character. Also, the walk is a way for the grandfather to reminisce about the city of his childhood.
The language is brilliant and complex, so I’d recommend it for advanced readers of Italian but if you feel that it is too much for you, I totally suggest reading it in English as it is a great piece of Italian literature and not just a way to practice your Italian. However, if you want to give it a try in Italian, you’ll enjoy a magnificent writing style!
Have you read any books by Domenico Starnone? If so, which ones? Did you like them?
If you are looking for interesting ways to practice your Italian daily, I’d suggest you check my program called Giorno dopo giorno, a daily Italian practice.
If you sign up to Giorno dopo giorno, you will receive an email every other day for 365 days. Each email will contain a prompt, a little exercise, something to watch, read, listen or something that will gently force you to practice your Italian every day, making it part of your daily routine.