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Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

Anthony Giardina on ‘Norumbega Park’

February 14, 2012 | by

In five novels and a collection of short stories, Anthony Giardina has written about the conflicts at the intersection of social class, family, and sexuality. Recent History explores the anxieties of a young man whose parents get divorced when his father announces he’s gay; in White Guys, a horrific murder in Boston forces old friends to consider their assumptions about where they belong in the social hierarchy. His new novel, Norumbega Park, traces the lives of the four members of an Italian-American family in Massachusetts over forty years. Richie, the patriarch, is seized by an urge to purchase a traditional house in the titular town, setting in motion a new life for his family. His son Jack breezes through high school on his charm, then runs into trouble when he moves to New York instead of going to college. Joannie, Jack’s sister, joins a convent, and her mother, Stella, struggles with that choice, as well as with her own encroaching mortality. I spoke with Giardina by e-mail about the work and experience that went into creating the new book.

Your fiction has been credited with “charting the move from the working class to the gilded suburbs.” What draws you to this story?

I was a witness, as a young boy, to my father’s desire to move us up, in our case from a working-class neighborhood to a brand-new neighborhood of houses that men built for themselves—my father and his cronies, Italian-American working-class guys who had made some money. They literally blasted into this hill in Waltham, Massachusetts, this area that had just been woods, and they built these houses that I can see now were just basic split-level structures but that seemed to me kind of magical. It wasn’t just houses these guys were building, it was a whole neighborhood they considered “exclusive.” It made them all act differently. They gave parties for themselves—they dressed up, the women wore gowns. And it was maybe the first complex social observation I was able to make, to watch a group of men and women consciously attempt to reinvent themselves.

Later, of course, I was able to see that this was a huge theme in American fiction, but before I knew it as literature, I had seen it in its raw form, and it left me with a vivid sense that this is how class works in America—that assumption of a new identity based on where you live, and how well you’ve done.

I’ve never wanted to do that for myself. I live in a modest house, and I like to assume a suburban identity where I’m just one of the neighborhood guys. Read More »

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Eugenio Montale Comes to New York

February 23, 2011 | by

A young Eugenio Montale.

“So you know Italian?”

I suddenly experience an obscure and unwelcome pang of solidarity with Christina Aguilera.

“Not very well.”

I look down at my shoes. Perhaps they will help.

“Or at all.”

But, I want to add, I do know Eugenio Montale. Or, at least, I’ve read him in translation. This matters because I’m at the handsomely furnished apartment of Professor Riccardo Viale, the Director of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, where a distinguished crowd of diplomats, writers, and journalists have assembled for a dinner to honor Montale. The occasion is a two-day celebration of the last century’s greatest Italian poet and a Nobel Laureate, which itself forms part of a broader program of events devised by the American Academy in Rome to mark the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Italy.

The above lines of dialogue are repeated a number of times over the course of the evening, but nobody seems to mind my genial ignorance. I may be stoutly and unheroically monoglot, but I don’t share the cultural introversion of my compatriot Kingsley Amis. I’m here to learn, which is fortunate because the room is full of enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Burrowing into a blond hill of steaming polenta, I chat with a business reporter for Corriere della Sera, the newspaper to which Montale contributed reviews of books and opera productions. Meanwhile, over a glass of wine, the playwright John Guare explains to me how he has only recently come to Montale but is determined to explore his work in more depth.

Fortunately for us, these events are also about translation and, more particularly, about how one of the principle gifts that Italy has bestowed upon the world came to be unwrapped. We have all just attended a busy recital at the nearby Metropolitan Club, where the actor Fausto Lombardi read from a selection of Montale’s lyrics, while Farrar, Straus and Giroux publisher Jonathan Galassi and poet Charles Wright delivered their translations, and poet Rosanna Warren introduced us to those of William Arrowsmith. To emphasize his appeal to American poets and readers, three different versions of Montale’s most famous poem, “The Eel,” were read, but out of a collegial spirit of shared excitement rather than any sense of rivalry.

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Back on Planet Dostoevsky

July 15, 2010 | by

Part three of a four-part review.

Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

3:15 P.M. “If you knew all the yams I have to tell them,” one character says, according to the supertitles. I am briefly interested, until I realize they are yarns and not yams. Pyotr is trying to recruit Nikolai to be part of his terrorist plot. This is such an amazing scene in the book. They’re saying practically the exact lines Dostoevsky wrote, and they aren’t bad actors, but somehow the effect isn’t there. It’s really weird. Maybe it is like the movie where the souls are put into storage.

3:31 P.M. Another great scene from the book—Shatov tells Nikolai Stavrogin, “Remember the importance you have had in my life, Stavrogin”—part of a sequence of scenes where Nikolai visits different people and they all project various completely demented fantasies onto him (because they are possessed). But I’m not feeling it. I like the actor who plays Shatov—he reminds me a bit of Oscar the Grouch. I feel affectionately every time he pops up again out of his depressing cell. But I don’t believe it when he says that he is a worm and Nikolai is the sun.

The piano is punctuating every other line with ominous clunking sounds. Sometimes someone hits the strings with a hammer. It doesn’t help.

3:45 P.M. They are still introducing new characters. They only just got to Fedka the convict.

3:50 P.M. Neck and shoulder pain have set in. Captain Lebyadkin wants to write a will leaving his skeleton to students. A label on the skull will read: “A Repentant Freethinker.” “You’re getting rid of me like an old slipper?” Lebyadkin shouts to Nikolai. This sounds funny in Italian, because the word for slipper is ciabatta.

3:59 P.M. The lame retarded girl has been shrieking for four minutes now about a knife.

4:07 P.M. Nikolai and Gaganov are fighting a duel. It takes forever. The seconds are marking off the paces, putting up the barriers. I always wondered what the barriers in a duel looked like. In this case, they look like unpainted construction barriers.

Kirilov looks kind of Jewish.

4:10 P.M. They are finally done choosing their weapons.

4:14 P.M. The first shots are finally fired. Gaganov shoots Nikolai in the hand, but Nikolai shoots in the air. The guns are really loud. A crazy-sounding old guy in the audience roars with laughter. I’ve been noticing for a while now in the audience: less knowing meta-theatrical laughter, and more random crazy-person laughter. Read More »

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