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Italian Tales

Italian Tales: An Anthology of Contemporary Italian Fiction

Edited by Massimo Riva
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Italian Tales
    Book Description:

    This anthology serves as a literary map to guide readers through the varied geography of contemporary Italian fiction. Massimo Riva has gathered English-language translations of short stories and excerpts from novels that were originally published in Italian between 1975 and 2001. As an expression of a communal contemporary condition, these narratives suggest a new sensibility and a new way of seeing, exploring, and inhabiting the world, in writing.Riva provides a comprehensive introduction to Italian literary trends of the past twenty years. Each selection is preceded by a short introduction and biography of the writer. For English-language readers who are familiar with the work of Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco, this collection presents an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the work of other important contemporary Italian writers of fiction.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12969-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction Mapping Contemporary Italian Fiction
    (pp. xi-xxxii)

    This anthology is both a sort of literary map and a travelogue meant to guide the American reader through the changing territory of contemporary Italian fiction. The world we live in is reorienting itself, redrawing its coordinates and boundaries, be they natural, social, or imaginary. The metaphor of the writer as a cartographer of a virtual dimension—parallel in space and time to the one we all inhabit—is thus particularly apt in describing the work of writing fiction at the end of a millennium that, in the words of Italo Calvino, “has seen the birth and development of the...


    • Consuming the View
      (pp. 3-8)
      Luigi Malerba

      This collection opens with an ironic prologue. I selected this corrosive little story (storietta), originally published in a series for young readers,Storiette tascabili(Little Pocket Stories), from the rich repertoire of one of the most prolific writers of late twentiethcentury Italy, Luigi Malerba (pen name of Luigi Banardi). It perfectly illustrates the leitmotif of this anthology: remapping the virtual place that Italy is today, so familiar and yet unfamiliar to its inhabitants and its visitors alike. And what better way to begin than from that most canonic of sites, the Eternal City? Deceptively naive, Malerba’s story has the simple...

  6. PART I Ruins with a View

    • The Keeper of Ruins
      (pp. 11-20)
      Gesualdo Bufalino

      Gesualdo Bufalino’s “The Keeper of Ruins” is the first of four late modern variations, presented in this section, on a neoclassical view: the Italian landscape with ruins. In Bufalino’s story, a nocturnal invention representative of this Sicilian writer’s “baroque” style, the relics of wrecked cars, like “stubborn caryatids remaining upright after the collapse of the architrave,” provide the equivalent of a late twentieth-century Piranesian perspective on the ruins of civilization. Bufalino (b. 1920, Comiso, Sicily, d. 1996 in a car accident) came to critical attention only in the 1980s, when he was already in his sixties. The son of a...

    • Zardino
      (pp. 21-39)
      Sebastiano Vassalli

      Sebastiano Vassalli’s historical novelThe Chimerais set in a rural Piedmont village in the seventeenth century. In Vassalli’s opening paragraph, the present slowly fades out and the remote past comes into focus: a cinematic technique reminiscent of Alessandro Manzoni’s famous introduction to his historical masterpieceI promessi sposi(also set in the seventeenth century), with its long and wandering zoom into the landscape surrounding Lake Como. Yet between these two almost symmetrical openings lies the entire parabolic evolution of the modern historical novel. In the work excerpted here, the ever-present fog clouding the Padania landscape parallels the clouding of...

    • The Self-Awareness of the Labyrinth
      (pp. 40-60)
      Giorgio Manganelli

      We follow Vassalli’s archeology of the present with Giorgio Manganelli’s labyrinthine musings. Manganelli’s labyrinth might indeed be read as a biting, tongue-in-cheek metaphor for our contemporary metaphysical sense (or non-sense) of space. The piece included here is taken from the collectionAll the Errors(Tutti gli errori,1986), and all the errors of the human mind form the deceptive perfection of this labyrinth: the self-deceiving quality of any attempt to find truth through fiction. It is worth noting thatLetteratura come menzogna(Literature as Lie) was the title of Manganelli’s first collection of essays, published in 1967. Manganelli was born...

    • Lost Road
      (pp. 61-76)
      Gianni Celati

      In the last piece of this section, Emilian writer Gianni Celati undertakes a perilous journey through a contemporary wasteland: “Traveling in the countryside of the Po valley, it is difficult not to feel a stranger,” he writes. “Even more than the pollution of the river, the diseased trees, the industrial stench, the state of neglect blanketing anything that doesn’t have to do with profit, and, finally, more than the housing meant for transient dwellers, without either homeland or destination—more than all this, what surprises one here is this new kind of countryside where one breathes an air of urban...

  7. PART II Memory Lanes

    • The Penumbra We Have Crossed
      (pp. 79-89)
      Lalla Romano

      In her introduction toThe Penumbra We Have Crossed,from which this piece is excerpted, Turinese writer Lalla Romano (1902–2001) notes that her book describes a journey or, better,isa journey. Yet it “is not a journey in time to retrieve the past; it is a short journey in space to the home village,” where “the past is eternally present.” In this intimate and somewhat ghostly domestic territory, immortalized by old daguerreotypes, a new literary space awaits us, a space where poetry and truth belong to each other and to the collective memory of literature.The Penumbra We...

    • On the Neverending Terrace
      (pp. 90-99)
      Anna Maria Ortese

      Taken from Anna Maria Ortese’s remarkable 1986 collectionIn sonno e in veglia(Asleep and Awake), “On the Neverending Terrace” introduces us to a strange subliminal dimension reminiscent of her 1965 masterpieceThe Iguana. All classic perspectives are disrupted in this story: the house with its peculiar feeling of isolation and its strange layout “stretched out like a long tram, or a goods wagon left on a disused track,” swiftly expands into a whole nightmarish landscape where bizarre mechanical creatures, migrating from the realm of folktales, are connected to a sinister and haunting presence. The story’s final twist, however, is...

    • The Piazza
      (pp. 100-116)
      Fabrizia Ramondino

      What better site of collective memory in the Italian literary subconscious than a piazza? All memory lanes seem to converge on it. “A most civilized piazza, sunlit . . .” begins this excerpt from Neapolitan writer Fabrizia Ramondino’s 1981 novelAlthenopis,the mythical name of the fictional Neapolitan village of Santa Maria del Mare. As Ramondino (b. 1936) explains in a footnote: “The name of my native city. Originally its name meant ‘maiden’s eye.’ But it seems that the Germans, during the Occupation, finding it so decrepit compared with Mozart’s descriptions . . . changed its name to Althenopis, as...

    • Great Bear, Little Bear
      (pp. 117-126)
      Ginevra Bompiani

      Ginevra Bompiani takes us, in this piece, far from home (wherever home is, in space or time). Her journey back to adolescence involves the patient retracing of footsteps in an effort to unearth her past self. We wander with her, first on a Parisian street and then, suddenly evoked by the namerue Marmousets,up the narrow lanes of a mountain village where the protagonist went to a boarding school, also namedLes Marmousets,years before. Bompiani’s fragmentary road to remembering (somewhat reminiscent of another writer, already familiar to the American reader, Fleur Jaeggy) follows a different path from that...

  8. PART III Vanishing Points

    • Windswept Lane
      (pp. 129-143)
      Antonio Tabucchi and Tim Parks

      It is to a haunted space of memory, both familiar and disorienting, that we are led in this excerpt from Antonio Tabucchi’s short novel of 1986,The Edge of the Horizon.An air of mystery pervades this sleepy Mediterranean harbor city (Genoa?), captured at an indeterminate moment in time. The protagonist, a coroner named Spino, attempts to trace the footsteps and discover the identity of a mysterious Carlo Nobodi, nicknamed “The Kid,” a suspected terrorist murdered under murky circumstances. Tabucchi suggests in a postscript that “Spino” could be an abbreviation for Spinoza: “Spinoza was a Sephardic Jew, and like many...

    • Reaching Dew Point
      (pp. 144-156)
      Daniele Del Giudice

      This excerpt from Daniele Del Giudice’s second book translated into English,Staccando l’ombra da terra(Takeoff: The Pilot’s Lore), springs directly from the writer’s passion for flying: the “dew point” of the title is a technical expression used by pilots, hinting metaphorically at a shifting point of no return, a paradoxical vantage point on the invisible horizon suspended over the hazy plains crossed by the Po River. Evidently the view of these deceptive and foggy flatlands is not much clearer from the air than from the ground (witness Celati or Vassalli). If Tabucchi’s prose contains multiple echoes of popular 1930s...

    • Montedidio
      (pp. 157-167)
      Erri De Luca

      With this selection we turn again to the south. Erri De Luca’sMontedidio(God’s Mountain), from which the following piece is taken, is an unconventional novel, the journal of an adolescent living and working as a carpenter’s apprentice in one of Naples’s poorest neighborhoods—an area called Montedidio, giving the book its “biblical” title. De Luca, who taught himself Hebrew in order to translate the book of Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and several other Old Testament books into Italian, borrows the voice of a young scribe who writes his own coming-of-age story in the foreign idiom (Italian) he has learned in school:...

    • Leo’s World
      (pp. 168-184)
      Pier Vittorio Tondelli

      Homecoming is the theme of “Leo’s World,” by Pier Vittorio Tondelli (b. Correggio, Reggio Emilia, 1955), an excerpt from his fourth book,Camere separate(Separate Rooms). Considered Tondelli’s most mature work,Separate Roomswas published only two years before his premature death of AIDS in 1991. Tondelli is perhaps the most convincing example of a “postnational” type of author. His protagonists (including Leo, the autobiographical main character ofSeparate Rooms) are gripped by wanderlust and move with ease across Europe (and the world), following the migratory currents of the new “urban race.”¹ As critic Diego Zancani has written, “Pier Vittorio...

  9. PART IV Views from Afar

    • The Sea Voyage of Baron Mandralisca
      (pp. 187-200)
      Vincenzo Consolo

      Sicilian writer Vincenzo Consolo’sThe Smile of the Unknown Mariner(Il sorriso dell’ignoto marinaio) introduces us to a new type of historical narrative. In the excerpt that follows, historical memory is above all a visual sort of memory, and “the sea voyage of Enrico Pirajno, Baron of Mandralisca, from Lipari to Cefalù, bearing the canvas with the portrait of an unknown man by Antonello da Messina” is the first panel of a fascinating historical fresco. Published in 1976, two years after Morante’sStoria, Consolo’s novel is more an exercise in the art ofstaginghistory than a linear reconstruction and...

    • Melodrama
      (pp. 201-209)
      Pier Maria Pasinetti

      Our fictional itinerary would not be complete without an opera stage, and we find two in this final section. The first, Pier Maria Pasinetti’s prelude to his 1993 novel, aptly entitledMelodramma,raises the curtain on a gallery of effervescent historical cross-references, a perfectly orchestrated choral performance (with a couple of dizzying solos as well). Pasinetti’s highly mobile narrative world stretches between the new and the old continent, between Venice and California, “mutually opposed places and vast, mutually opposed distances [that] can generate sparks of energy that pique our ever-expanding curiosity and ever more active imagination.” Born in Venice in...

    • From the Diary of Baron Scarpia
      (pp. 210-220)
      Paola Capriolo

      A famous stage persona is the protagonist of Paola Capriolo’s novelVissi d’amore(translated into English by Liz Heron asFloria Tosca). The Italian title is, of course, taken from one of Puccini’s most famous arias (“Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore”), which Tosca sings in the second act of the opera that bears her name. Capriolo’s novel, however, is not a readaptation of the libretto (based in turn on a historical melodrama by Victorien Sardou), but is based instead on a fictional document: the diary of Baron Scarpia, the chief of police who investigates and arrests Tosca’s lover, the painter and...

    • The Day of Thanksgiving
      (pp. 221-242)
      Paolo Valesio

      This section concludes with a more meditative piece, an adagio of sorts. Paolo Valesio’s “The Day of Thanksgiving” is a fine example of this writer’s ability to evoke a subdued yet intense atmosphere in what he, a poet and also an admired critic, would perhaps define as “poetic prosing.”¹ Born in 1939 in Bologna, Valesio (like Pasinetti) is an expatriate Italian scholar, and in his distinguished career in the United States he has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Universities.² He is the founder and editor of the journalYale Italian Poetry. Writing “in between” his two literary and existential...


    • Leave-taking
      (pp. 245-256)
      Franco Ferrucci

      Leaving the last word to the Tuscan-New York writer Franco Ferrucci (b. Pisa, 1936, both a novelist and a prominent essayist and scholar) provides an apt epilogue to this collection: his is the literal word of God, taken from his novelThe Life of God (As Told by Himself).¹ In this fictive autobiography of the Creator, a novel-essay and a memoir to end all memoirs, Ferrucci depicts a God who is almost as clueless as His creatures (and perhaps even more so) as to the meaning of it all: “For long stretches at a time I forget that I am...

  11. Credits
    (pp. 257-260)