Books about women. Books by women.
For reasons that will become all too clear later in the year (yes, it’s got something to do with books in translation) I’ve been thinking a lot about women. About how they’re treated. About who’s fault it is. It all started with rubbish Italian television, Berlusconi, lady senators and a book called Meat Market. Female Flesh Under Capitalism by Laurie Penny. What can the four possibly have in common you might be asking yourself? Well, sadly in Italy they are all related.
But I had that conversation somewhere else and I want to talk about books here. Italian books about women. Books by Italian women. From Silvia Avallone’s Marina Bellezza, to Manuela Salvi’s Aleksandra, Bianca and Alessia, and Catena Fiorello’s Picciridda. Different writers, different stories, different audiences, but all women and all with something important to say. About women.
In her highly successful first novel Acciaio, available in English as Swimming to Elba, Silvia Avallone explored the bleakness of life for younger generations in a failing industrial town in Italy where young women either get married or prostitute themselves before the age of eighteen, turned sour after an adolescence of flaunting their budding sexuality to idlers on the beach or being spied on by the men in their lives. In her equally successful new novel, Marina Bellezza, she describes the life of a young girl who enters the “meat market” by choice, convinced that her body is her ticket to instant fame and fortune. But the only law in this otherwise lawless, media-crazed society is that success comes with a price: your soul.
No sooner than she gets onto the stage, our main character goes off the rails. This is contrasted with another way of life, the “old Italian dream”, in which the ancient rhythms of the seasons and the ability to live off the land through hard work and tradition, count much more than money and the need to be famous to make sense of your life. The kind of life that many young people in Italy today are going back to, disillusioned with a society where it’s OK for the state, the economy, and even Europe to collapse, just as long as we’ve still got the TV. A country where the Daniela Santanche’s, the Nicole Minetti’s and showgirls like Belen Rodriguez’ seem to be happy to have achieved what they see as “sexual liberation” and a pain-free, easy-access route to success. Reading Marina Bellezza, we realize it might not be as pain-free as it seems.
Italy is a land of contradictions. And novelist Silvia Avallone paints them very well. She tells the story of an Italy in which women feel they have to / are willing to sell their bodies and their souls for a spot of the limelight. Other female Italian writers have equally important tales to tell about the trials and tribulations of life as a teenager, of transgressions, of the dark side of love and life beyond the shadows of organized crime and the grooming of young girls into a life of prostitution. And not just in Italy. These are worrying social issues that affect us all. That we should all be worried about. In Italy and abroad. If you want to know more, check out Manuela Salvi‘s list of novels exploring issues that all teenagers will either have come across or will want to be reading about.
But there’s also another Italy. One that existed and continues to exist – out of the limelight. A quiet, hard-working and proud land of great believers in family and tradition, the “old Italian dream” of mums, dads, grandmothers, pulling together and doing what they can for the sake of the family. The way Catena Fiorello tells it in Picciridda.
By Catena Fiorello. Published by Baldini Castoldi Dalai.
“With my feet in the sand, I look back on how hard life was then, everything was an uphill struggle, no favours, no free rides, which included my life with my grandmother.
But with my feet in the sand, I never felt truly alone or unhappy.
It was there, with my feet in the sand and with every drop of energy that life gave me, I spent days I’ll never forget. I stayed as long as it took to feel alive again, then I’d slowly put my shoes back on, dust off my dress to shake out the sand that got everywhere, even into my underwear, and, with a lightened heart, I would go home. “
Translated from the back cover of the book.
Check back soon if you want to know more about Picciridda.