As you may already know, I am always on the hunt for good Italian books.
This should be a very easy and entertaining task because I really love books but I have made this task a bit more difficult for myself because I want to select good Italian books that have an English translation as well.
Many people have been asking me why I do so and my answer is always the same, the one I give when people also ask me why I write my blog posts and my newsletter in English: there are many people who still don’t have a good command of the Italian language but love Italy and the Italian language very much, why should I deprive them of discovering interesting things?
That being said, it is always very hard to find a good Italian book that can be found in English too, so it is always quite challenging for me. For example, today I am writing about an Italian writer who has written a very good novel that unfortunately is available in Italian only, while this other book that got to be translated and distributed abroad is not her best – in my opinion, of course.
However, despite a few flaws, the book has some very interesting elements and that’s why I decided to feature it anyway. First of all, the author is Lorenza Pieri, a writer born in Romagna who has lived her childhood and teenage years in the small island of Giglio, a tiny yet breathtakingly beautiful island off the coast of Tuscany. She is currently living in New York, where she works as a journalist and literary translator but her two books are deeply rooted in Italy.
Her debut novel is Isole Minori, a book that tells the story of a family over four decades, a story centered geographically, politically, and emotionally on a small Mediterranean isle, the Isola del Giglio. As a matter of fact, there are many characters in the book but the most powerful one is the island itself.
The Isola del Giglio appears as a sort of terrestrial paradise, isolated from the rest of the world. Teresa, the main character in the novel, tries to build a life for herself away from the island but she eventually has to come back. And she will be part of an important event in Italian life that makes the almost-unknown little island the center of the news for a while, showing that history can happen everywhere, even in the most remote places.
Unfortunately, the book is available in Italian only. This is a real pity because it is a powerful and interesting book, where the personal lives of the characters are linked to parts of Italian history and to some recent events too. As I said, the island is a character in itself and probably the thing I loved the most about the book is the setting, the perfect depiction of the nature and atmosphere of the island – which you should visit one day!
But the book I wanted to focus on is actually another one: it’s Il giardino dei mostri, which you can find in English as The Garden of Monsters, published by Europa Editions. As I said, I didn’t like it as much as the other book – probably because I had set my expectations a bit too high – but I have enjoyed reading it and found some very interesting aspects in it.
Just like she did in her debut novel, Lorenza Pieri tells the story of a family and especially focuses on the relationships between the various family members. The scenery plays a key role here as well – the book is set in Maremma, the southernmost area of Tuscany, a land of agriculture and horse breeding – but what makes it unique is that the story is closely linked to a very important place in the area.
The place I am referring to is Niki De Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden, a magical garden in the municipality of Capalbio, in the province of Grosseto. Opened to the public in 1998, the garden, inspired by Parque Güell in Barcelona and Parco dei Mostri in Bomarzo, is a monumental sculpture garden with 22 figures representing De Saint Phalle’s idea of the greater mysteries of the tarot.
The garden is an incredible place – totally worth visiting, if you are in the area – and the book tells a bit about the process of building it and, in particular, tells more about Niki De Saint Phalle’s life and personality. I have especially loved how the writer added this information in the novel without ruining its flow and making it a coherent part of the narrative.
The plot wasn’t exactly compelling for me but I’ve really appreciated this unique way of telling more about an area, the Maremma countryside, once a marshy and poor region that is now one of the most popular tourist areas in Tuscany, and about the Tarot Garden, definitely a unique place of interest there.
I have visited Maremma and the Tarot Garden multiple times in the past but haven’t gone there in a long time and this book really made me want to go again. I truly hope that this book will spark the same interest in you and that you’ll add it to your Italian bucket list!
Now you: have you read some good Italian books lately? I need recommendations!
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