Tag Archives: Italy

Book Review: The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza

The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza Title: The Art of Joy
Author: Goliarda Sapienza
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 9780241956991
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 687
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are very few novels you will come across in your life – that are huge in scope. That literally takes the breath of the reader and is not shy or apologetic about it. It is also about the magnitude of some novels that almost make you wonder if such authors exist anymore or can there be works of this nature ever produced again. “The Art of Joy” by Goliarda Sapienza is one such classic.

Very few books have left me stupendous – literally dumbfounded at times, without anything left to say. What “The Art of Joy” also does ironically is make you think of your voice and your opinions. Goliarda’s protagonist is so strong and yet so weak, that any of us can identify with her and yet emerge our own person. I also think that somewhere is the underlined intent of the book.

Modesta is everything a woman is – weak, powerful, giving, restraining and yet wanting it all. She blends into the plot, with the history of Italy as the plot unfolds. It is a memoir of sorts and yet it is as hidden as it could get. There are spaces in-between that shine through and will dazzle the reader. There are times when the writing just takes you by storm. The story of Modesta and Italy are superbly portrayed. There is no separating the two.

What I am most surprised is that the book was rejected by various publishers, before it could get published in 2005 and deserved recognition at last. Modesta’s story is one to reckon with. “The Art of Joy” spans through the entire century – the history of the twentieth century, with the figure of one lone strong woman.

There are so many linear plots to the novel and yet there wasn’t a single time I was tired reading it. It felt that I had to go on and on or else I would not be able to sleep. Modesta’s hopes, desires and her aspirations become yours. She is able to be her person and voice in a society that is patriarchal and driven by what men think and feel.

“The Art of Joy” cannot be classified in any genre and yet I will call it literary fiction. It is one book that I think everyone must read at some point in their lives. This book should be cherished and perhaps reread. This is what the value is. A marvellous read.

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Book Review: I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Riccciardi by Maurizio de Giovanni

I Will Have Vengeance Title: I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi
Author: Maurizio de Giovanni
Translator: Anne Milano Appel
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609450946
Genre: Noir, Crime
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Crime fiction is not everyone’s cup of tea – to read or to write. It is more so difficult when you are writing crime fiction novels based in a time different than yours, you have to but after all keep in mind how the readers are going to react to those times and situations. At the same time, a writer needs to be more so intelligent when it comes to the plot and the overall series (because when anyone writes a crime novel, according to me it more or less turns to be a series). These and a lot of other elements make for a great crime novel, when synchronized and almost singing to each other.

“I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi” is one such book, written with keen observation and some humour (in some places if not all) by Maurizio de Giovanni. At the core of the novel, as the title suggests is its protagonist, Commissario Ricciardi. The action takes place in Naples. It is 1931 and winter. The cold winds are biting and Ricciardi knows that something is going to happen. Sure enough, a murder takes place; that of one of the greatest tenors the world has ever known – Maestro Vezzi and that too in his dressing room at Naples famous San Carlo Theatre. The enigmatic and quite cold Ricciardi is called in for an investigation, with his loyal colleague Maione. The two make for a fantastic detective duo I have read about in a long time. The murder and its solving make for excellent reading, and that too because of a secret held by Ricciardi.

Maurizio de Giovanni wrote a short story at first and introduced Ricciardi in it. From there on it won a writing competition, and then paved way for other three books in the series. What struck me the most and stayed with me about the book was the setting. Naples in 1930s was something I had never thought I would read of and that too in crime fiction, however I did and I loved it. Ricciardi is a man with a lot of baggage attached and at the same time, the characterization is humane and subtle. There are hilarious moments throughout the book and the writing is sharp and unsettling as well.

At one point the story did lose some pace, but I ignored that aspect, as it lunged right ahead and got me back into the story. This has been the first crime fiction for me of the year and I could not have been happier about the choice. Europa Editions has introduced the “World Noir” series and this is the first installment. I am sure the other titles will be as riveting as this one. At the same time, I cannot wait to read the other three titles published in the Ricciardi series (hoping they will be translated in English). This translation of the first novel by Anne Milano Appel is almost bang-on with description and the sense of place of a crime novel. The great thing that worked for me as well was that I read it during winter (the apt season), so the “relate” factor was high. A brilliant read nonetheless.

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Title: Beautiful Ruins
Author: Jess Walter
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 9780061928123
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 337
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter is a story set in simple times and may be that is why I was so taken in by it. I had not read the earlier successful book by Jess Walter, “The Financial Lives of the Poets”. I have heard a lot about it and will read it now after having experienced his style of writing. Beautiful Ruins is set in most places – coast of Italy, Rome, Hollywood, Idaho, and in England and Scotland, and that’s why I loved this book so much. The fact that Walter can take the reader to so many places is stupendous and shows his skill as a writer.

The “beautiful ruins” of this novel is its physical setting; a tiny coastal village in Italy called Porto Vergogna (ironically translated as Port Shame). Here we are introduced to a young man named Pasquel, whose family owns the only hotel in town. He is determined to attract more tourists to this village and thereby improve the conditions of his hotel which he names The Hotel Adequate View. The book starts in 1962 when a young beautiful actress named Dee Moray arrives to stay at the hotel (earlier only one American had visited the hotel – Alvis Bender, a writer who only could not seem to write) and but obviously everything changes and the change occurs when Pasquel falls in love with Dee. The starlet one fine day leaves the island and Pasquel is left heartbroken but not without a mission. That is one part of the story.

The second part of the story is the “recent present” where Pasquel arrives in Hollywood to find out what happened to Dee. The quest to find her leads him to other people who were affected by the single act of her coming to the island in 1962. This is where we meet other characters: Michael Deane, the aging producer, Claire, Deane’s assistant whose idealism is slipping by slowly, and Shane, the talent-challenged writer, who help Pasquel in his search. The surprise element in the book is Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. (Almost like a starred appearance)

The book alternates between 1962 and the present beautifully in the form of letters, character sketches, lives lived, old letters, novel excerpts and movie pitches. There is a lot going on in the book and the reader has to get used to that (which can be very difficult) before falling in love with the writing. Beautiful Ruins as a title is most symbolic of what was once beautiful is in ruins and all things beautiful eventually turn to ruins. The slippage in time is symbolic of this fact.

“Beautiful Ruins” is a beautifully composed, philosophically written and highly entertaining novel. It can get a bit dragging at times but at the end of it all, it is so worth-it, once the reader knows the pace is picking up and going somewhere. There are private losses and gains in the book. Each character is beautifully etched and his or her own story to tell and how he or she is connected to the others. The characters of the past and present merge wonderfully to show readers Walter’s writing prowess. Like I said I only am inclined to read good books and I am glad I read this one. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer by Luigi Guicciardi

Title: Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer
Author: Luigi Guicciardi
Publisher: Hersilia Press
ISBN: 978-0-9563796-0-3
Genre: Mystery, Crime
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I could not stop turning the pages of “Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer” written by Luigi Guicciardi. It was a great mystery read for me this year. I for one was taken in by the plot and the characters and let me tell you that a cup of hot chocolate goes best with a mystery read.

The book is set in Northern Italy in the 1990s. A 20-year old death comes back to disrupt the lives of Italian professionals and intellectuals in a small Italian town. He was originally convicted of murder and wants to actualize revenge from the ones responsible for the crime. That is the plot in a nutshell. I cannot give away more since this is a mystery.

Inspector Cataldo – a quiet and unassuming man is then called on to investigate the deaths of the intellectuals. At this stage in the book, the identity of the killer is yet unknown, however that is what adds to the mystery but obviously. Who is the killer then? Is it the wrongly convicted person or someone else?

I loved how the characters were etched to perfection. Each and every character in the book has his or her place cut out. Not once while reading the book does the reader feel a miss in any of the parts. The pace of the book starts off slow however once the murders start taking place one after the other, the pace picks up.

“Criminal Summer” is a stunningly atmospheric book. Luigi Guicciardi does not lose the opportunity to describe Northern Italy for what it is and make it come alive for the readers. For instance, the scenes when the author is describing the summer heat, makes you want to grab a chill glass of lemonade. That is the magic of strong and powerful writing. The author delivers on almost all counts – plot, pace, level of mystery, style of writing and building the environment. The translation by Iain Halliday is well done.

I must at this point also accolade the efforts of the publisher, Hersilia Press who have undertaken the task to translate good Italian Crime Fiction Books to English and present us with great reading material. There are three more Cataldo mysteries in the offing and I cannot wait to lay my hands on all of them as I am certain they will prove to be satisfying reads.

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Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer

Book Review: The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom

Title: The Paperbark Shoe
Author: Goldie Goldbloom
Publisher: Picador Books
ISBN: 978-0312674502
Genre: Literary Fiction
PP: 384 pages
Price: $15.00
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Set in Australia during World War II, “The Paperbark Shoe” is ostensibly the story of Gin Boyle Toad, an Albino woman, who has married beneath her social class in order to escape being institutionalized for life. Although a trained classical pianist and a member of the moneyed class, Gin is an outsider because of her pigmentation. Her husband, Mr. Adolphus Toad, is a crude farmer of short stature who has some unusual proclivities; his size and oddities place him outside conventional society. Antonio and John, two Italian prisoners-of-war, are participants in a worker program designed to aid Australian farmers. Outsiders because of their nationality and because they are the enemy, the two integrate their lives into those of the Boyle household. Yet, they are never fully accepted as part of the family unit and remain aware of their outsider status. As outside observers, the two surviving Boyle children, Mudsey and Alf, are affected by and comment on the adults’ interactions.

Goldbloom’s command of language is extraordinary. In relating his story, she is able to make the reader empathize with even the despicable Toad. Goldbloom’s description of the things Gin has learned since coming to Wyalkatchem, page 35 in the ARC, is a powerful testament to the strength required to survive in the harsh Australian ranchlands. One can feel the pride Gin takes in her accomplishments, though that pride is tinged with despair. Even as Toad and John, and Gin and Antonio establish relationships, they remain outside the conventions of polite society. Goldbloom draws the reader into those relationships, their joys and their sorrows.

This novel flows smoothly from beginning until it reaches its final chapter. Only there do the scenario and plot seem to become disjointed from that of the main text. It is almost as if the chapter had been written at another time and tacked onto the book’s end. While it is a powerful text, in and of itself, I do not think the book would have suffered without the inclusion of that final chapter. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful novel and richly deserves a five-star rating. If you are looking for an interesting, character driven book which will keep your attention from beginning to end, I urge you to read Goldie Goldbloom’s “The Paperbark Shoe.”