Getting lost, but inside the light… Carmen Pellegrino in Messina to present her new novel


By John

«He who speaks of shadows speaks the truth». Paul Celan's verse – another who chose to disappear – was an exergue from a novel by Carmen Pellegrino. That is, one of the parts that emerge, of all the poetry that flows and vibrates beneath and within the author's novels. They are all, this is the fourth, novels of absence and of the shadow, of “what sits in the dark”, of the silence of the ruins, of abandoned but not for this reason lifeless places, of the wounds of the world, of those who moves away and disappears but becomes a trace and light, and word. Even this novel, which bears light in its title, is furiously, intensely dedicated to the shadow, and to all its truths: «Where the light» (published by La Nave di Teseo, nominated for the Strega Prize by Gad Lerner) takes its title, like the others, from the words of a poet, Giuseppe Ungaretti, who after having seen and told about war and death tries to talk about the love that was supposed to re-establish the world. This is always believed after the wars: that it is a beginning, which can never again be thrown into the shadows. Was it really like this, after the first and second wars: was it true?

From there, from here it starts the most complex and personal novel by Carmen Pellegrino (who will meet readers at the Feltrinelli point in Messina on Monday at 6pm): intimate in questioning ourselves about a generation which, once the mythology of growing (and consuming) without limits has expired, finds a very different kind of setbacks and rubble on its path; social in identifying a specific period, the Seventies and Eighties of the twentieth century – that of the mysteries of State, of Ustica and the massacre of Bologna, of Sindona and of Ambrosoli – in which that wave of hope was limited, weakened.

It is an elaborate coming and going between times and spaces, very small towns and large historical scenarios, private events and memories and collective tragedies (because the individual in every moment – Pellegrino always seems to tell us – is a coming and going between intimate and social, between minimal and immeasurable ). All times mix: the taking of a photo of a little girl and the collapse of the Morandi bridge; the time of a post on social media, the time – unlimited, interminable – of an earthquake (Irpinia in 1980) and the time of sowing (both seasonal and perennial, outside of time like all myths and so inside time to scan and measure it).

The stories mix, because we are all an immense narrative, fluid but jerky, uninterrupted yet full of caesuras, in which the imaginary and the real have the same consistency, the same ability to determine lives. Thus the story of Milo, a homeless man who lives on the street, “beaten by fate”, victim of colossal injustices and yet incapable of thoughts of revenge, is linked, at a certain point, to that of the Professor, a luminary whose subject, the economy, should for him be at the service of those like Milo, and not of those who have hurt and humiliated Milo's life.

Is the Professor Federico Caffè, the economist who was an important voice in the political debate of the 80s and suddenly disappeared one day in April 1987? Yes and no. The letters he writes to a singular muse, Adolphine, are imaginary (we will only discover at the end who she is and isn't, at the same time: another coming and going between real, historical, and imagined, potential, poetic), and in which her passionate and compassionate soul. It is he in the thick trace that he left, in the flowering that his words still manage to give us, the ethical tension that always led him to the service of the Other, and to believe that it was the precise duty of the State to correct inequalities, to work on the margins . Another effect of Pellegrino's narration – so nourished by voices, ideas, fragments – is to reflect at every moment on how much we feed on the words of others, how indispensable the voices of others are to us to design ourselves and the world, to “fix our eyes”, perhaps to save us.

AND the imaginary story of Milo and the Professor unfolds together with that of the narrator (the narrated self) of the author, her private (generational) comings and goings between her town of origin (on the slopes of the Alburni mountains, in the “bone of the South”), her attachment to her father's land, and the great city, between the magnificent and progressive fortunes to which we all seemed destined, those of us born after the economic boom and in the season of mass hedonism, and the reality of the shrinking of perspectives, of the advance of disparities, of the precariousness that eats up lives ( the “poor work” we talk about today, which is the greatest offense to human dignity and the Constitution). The material that binds them all to perfection is the silver thread of Pellegrino's narration and his language of shadowy, clear beauty.

A poetic and political narrative, whose poles are fascinating concepts such as “decreation” (that getting rid of the encumbrance and “claiming thought” of the ego, which is also the shining center “from which writing takes its voice”), disutility, disbelonging , uninhabit. Which just means giving up being one in order to be a multitude, an open channel of life. Give up occupying the center to deal with the margins. And perhaps, through “remembering” (in Walter Benjamin's sense) we can even change the past, giving it another future (like, in the book, that of the Professor; like, thanks to books, that of the writer and the law).

So the narrative, for Pellegrino, can be like the bizarre paternal garden, like any secret and abandoned garden (the one where Milo and the Professor go to take refuge): wonderfully chaotic, where everything coexists with everything, palm and butcher's broom, fir and clover, and everything, every line of shadow, every crack, everything lost, everything survived, constantly “on the border between nothing and something”, speaks to us of our infinite, moving tension towards light.