23rd April is World Book and Copyright Day, coinciding with St. George’s Day, in many places a rose and a book are given as gifts. We look at the top 10 works by Italian authors.
23rd April was chosen as it is also a significant date for literary figures such as William Shakespeare whose birth and death anniversary fall on this day, along with Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega whose death also occurred on the same date.
For 2023, UNESCO picked “Indigenous Languages” as the theme. The official statement states, “Indigenous and local languages feature as part of the World Book Capital Network Charter, and the Charter recognises a less rigid concept of ‘the book’, i.e., acknowledging various forms of literature (including oral traditions).
“Of the almost 7,000 existing languages – many of which are fast disappearing – the majority are spoken by indigenous peoples who represent the greater part of the world’s cultural diversity.”
Top 10 books by Italian Authors
1. Italian Folk Tales – Italo Calvino
The Italian Folk Tales include 200 local stories from all over the Italian peninsula. For centuries, these stories have been transmitted by word of mouth. Italo Calvino translated this immense cultural heritage from the local dialects into standard Italian.
This work fits nicely into the 2023 UNESCO theme.
2. The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
A mystery novel set in a Benedictine Monastery in northern Italy during the Middle Ages, The Name of the Rose is also a questioning of the meaning of “truth” from theological, philosophical, scholarly, and historical perspectives. The evocative descriptions of life in the monastery, along with the gloomy medieval atmosphere will keep readers turning the pages.
It was also made into a film starring Sean Connery.
3. Don’t Move – Margaret Mazzantini
A brilliant Italian female writer, in this novel Mazzantini portrays contemporary Italian society through a tragic love story between a middle-class married man and a woman with a problematic life. There are no stereotypes, but you are taken through the whole spectrum of human emotions.
4. The Shape of the Water – Andrea Camilleri
The Shape of the Water introduces the reader to Inspector Montalbano. Based in Sicily, the original was written in the Sicilian dialect. The inspector, later portrayed by Luca Zingaretti in TV movies, is a lover of good food and the slow life, but still fights for justice despite the allure of sensual women.
Camilleri’s writing will take you by the hand to Sicily.
5. The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano
Paolo Giordano was the youngest Italian author to receive the Strega Prize for literature based on this Italian novel.
It tells the story of the love relationship between Alice and Mattia, who met at school. Their childhood was marked by traumatic episodes, bringing them together and haunting them as they grow up. Mattia’s twin sister disappeared while playing in a park; Alice became lame as a result of a skiing injury. The story revolves around their continuous encounters and separations.
6. The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri
The plot of The Divine Comedy is simple: a man, generally assumed to be Dante himself, is miraculously enabled to undertake a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. He has two guides: Virgil, who leads him through the Inferno and Purgatorio, and Beatrice, who introduces him to Paradiso.
Dante is considered the father of the Italian language.
7. My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
Book 1 in the “Neapolitan Quartet,” My Brilliant Friend introduces us to the fiery Lila and the bookish narrator, Elena. Set in Naples, the two girls meet as 10-year-olds. Ferrante’s four-part saga follows the course of their 60-year tumultuous friendship as Lila and Elena grow and embark on their own paths. At the same time, their neighbourhood and country also undergo pivotal transformations.
The identity of Elena Ferrante is a closely guarded secret.
8. Decameron – Giovanni Boccaccio
Decameron is the most popular work of Giovanni Boccaccio, a 14th-century Italian author. The Decameron holds a mirror to Florentine society of the time. The plot consists of 10 young people, 7 women, and 3 men who leave Florence to escape the plague and take refuge in the countryside. To pass the time, each of them undertakes to tell a story every day for ten days. The novel is made up of 100 short novels.
9. The Sense of an Elephant – Marco Missiroli
Pietro arrives in Milan with a battered suitcase full of memories, to take up a new job as concierge. Living in his palazzo are lost and eccentric souls: Poppi, a lawyer; Luciana and her son; and Luca, a doctor, whose wife Viola holds a secret that could destroy their marriage. From the beginning, Pietro has a special interest in Luca and his family, and soon he’s letting himself into their apartment while everyone is out. Pietro’s own story emerges in snatches and flashbacks prompted by his case of treasures.
10. I’m Not Scared – Niccolò Ammaniti
A boy in a fictitious small southern Italian town discovers his father and the rest of the townspeople have kidnapped a boy from a wealthy northern family. The story portrays the protagonist’s loss of childhood innocence and his transition to acting upon his own conscience. It eads him to go against his own father and the environment in which he grew up.