Italy is not only Florence, Rome, Venice, Naples or Milan. And most of the times life in Italy is way different from the one you can live in those big cities.
Most of Italy is made of tiny little villages that nobody knows, where life is absolutely not as glamorous as they show you on Instagram accounts about la dolce vita and sweet life in Italy. Forget about Aperol Spritz drunk at sunset by the seaside or breathtaking sceneries or memorable art and historical treasures.
Real life in real Italian province towns is way different from these glossy images. Sometimes there is just one old bar filled with old men playing cards and the owner doesn’t even know what an Aperol Spritz is – unless you live in Veneto, of course. Sometimes the best scenery you can find is the view over a dismissed car factory and the closest thing to art are terrible paintings by your aunt on display at the local summer fair.
Don’t misunderstand me, I love Italy and I think it is beautiful even when it is not – because, believe me, sometimes it is not – but real life is way different from the image you get from certain books or movies.
Sometimes it is really difficult to describe a certain place or way of life, sometimes you have to experience it firsthand to fully understand what it is. Luckily, there is contemporary Italian literature, which is full of talented authors who set their novels in the province and help us to better understand some peculiar aspects of Italian life.
One of these authors is Fabio Genovesi, a writer from Forte dei Marmi, a seaside location in Versilia, Tuscany. He is quite a prolific writer, he has written four novels, a short novels collection and a couple of non-fiction books. Thank God, two of his novels have been translated into English, making them available for non-Italian readers as well.
These two books are the ones I am focusing on in this post, in my quest to suggest you books of contemporary Italian literature that you can enjoy even if you are not fluent in Italian.
The two books I am referring to are The Breaking of a Wave (Chi manda le onde in Italian) and Live Bait (Esche vive in the Italian original version). Both of them have a similar setting: the first one is set in Forte dei Marmi, but in the outskirts of the city, outside the trendy tourist locations, and the second one is set in Muglione, a fictional place near Pisa.
Both places have some elements in common: they are unknown to people who do not live there, they are drowning in unemployment and lack of future prospects and there is nothing to do there. Life is empty, or better, full of meaningless things that have no purpose.
The Breaking of a Wave tells the story of thirteen-year-old Luna, who loses her beloved brother in a surfing accident and has to face her mother’s depression. The book is quite surreal most of the times but I have enjoyed it anyway (I am not that much into this genre) mainly because of its characters: Luna is incredible, vivid, stubborn, and full of life, but also weird Zot, her best friend, and his grandfather are truly unique.
All characters are somehow intertwined and interact with each other. The storyline is super simple but it isn’t what made me like this book. I liked this book mainly for the freshness of Luna and for the surreal yet very real description of life in provincial towns.
Immediately after finishing this novel, I began reading Life bait. As I said, the location is not the same but is very similar: a provincial town where the only way to live a good life is to go away. The only available jobs are meaningless and with no perspective, cultural life is zero and there isn’t even a place where you can gather or have a social life.
Everything is bleak and all characters are struggling, each one in its own personal way. The main characters are Fiorenzo, a teenager who is suffering from the loss of his mother and the absence of his father, Tiziana, who has returned home after studying abroad and is in charge of the local Youth Information Center, which works only as a gathering place for retired men playing cards, and Mirko, a young cycling talent.
Again, the plot is very simple and is basically the story of many lonelinesses meeting in a desolated place. All characters are somehow angry and alienated but they are really lovable and you become more and more attached to them while you go on reading the story.
Like the other one, this book is quite surreal as well – this seems to be Fabio Genovesi’s style – but I enjoyed it because it is a way to describe a very harsh reality without making it too dramatic, which makes the novel entertaining and enjoyable.
I haven’t read other books by Fabio Genovesi and I don’t know if I will but I’ve really liked these two. If you are interested in reading some contemporary Italian literature and want some real-life depiction of Italy, outside the glossy tourist towns, I’d really recommend these books.
But tell me, what is the last Italian book you read? I am curious!
If you are interested in learning more about Italian culture and lifestyle, I’d suggest you jump on my digital Vespa and join Be Italian For A Month, your 30-day virtual journey to Italy.
You will also learn some Italian words, you’ll receive some typical Italian recipes – ready to be cooked and enjoyed, you’ll get to tour around Italy, and learn about Italian traditions, proverbs, stereotypes, you name it. Plus, some cute surprises along the way!