It’s him, it’s Macondo. The “happy country” like all utopias, the country doomed, like all utopias. The country told, because when the stories that sleep inside the collective memory meet a sensitive heart and pen they are reborn and must be told again. Macondo is Scrivevaand its history is intertwined with the history of fifth steel centre, one of the great lies peddled to a Calabria that was asking for work and dignity.
Erava was born from an impulse of freedom, and a century later it was cancelled: a story that contradicts at least a hundred clichés about the Calabrians and their “resignation”. And stories that subvert clichés are among ‘s favorites Carmine Abate, the Crotone writer from Carfizzi who won the 2012 Campiello prize, but above all an author loved by an ever-wider circle of readers. For years Abate has been building his literary and cultural “living by addition”, contaminating his belongings, creating, novel after novel (in addition to collections of short stories, poems, essays), a multicultural identity of “linguistic defector” which dialogue between the worlds he crosses and inhabits, from his original Arbëreshë community to the “Germanesi”, the community of Calabrians who emigrated to Germany, to Trentino, where he works and lives.
Abate’s latest novel is released today by Mondadori, “A happy country” (And the national preview will be in Calabria, in San Ferdinando, today at 6pm in the council chamber). A true, powerful story, which we relive in those Seventies of which we find facts, characters (there is also Pasolini, then very close to the Calabria of the last), soundtracks, and a fighting spirit that also animates the community of Erava, and the two protagonists, the students Lina and Lorenzo. It is a love story, not only between two young people: it is also love for places, for the community, for the commonality of destinies. It is a story of civil passion, which vibrates very strongly, and also harmonizes with the always magical nature of Abate’s narratives, both individual and choral. It is an “us” that vibrates, even linguistically, in a mixture that has never been so powerful and harmonious: this time the dialect that combines with Italian – and it is a language of expression and belonging, not a language of realism or verisimilitude – is that Reggio Emilia, demonstrating the painstaking philological work that underlies Abate’s novels.
The common thread is Gabriel García Márquez’s masterpiece, which the protagonist Lorenzo is reading, and the events, the words of Macondo are intertwined with the events of Erava, a community fighting to survive (and how many current events do we know of communities fighting against “monsters” that threaten them?) . His characters – old Mena, master Cenzo, Petraro – are fabulous archetypes, but at the same time fully alive and true, faces and voices of that “us” that Abate makes us feel and see. We talked about it with him.
You face a true story, but one that few know. And with a civil battle attitude. Why this choice, and the choice of Erava?
«At the beginning it wasn’t a conscious choice. Simply, I was enchanted by the name Cerchiava, which I heard for the first time about seven years ago while I was collecting information and stories about migration in the San Ferdinando tent city. I wrote the novel “The wrinkles of the smile” (Mondadori, 2018), but in the meantime I began to be interested in Erava, who continued to intrigue me for the utopia contained like a pearl in her name. At the beginning it was just an intuition, but then I discovered that the town had been founded not far from the tent city of San Ferdinando when a group of farmers and farmers rebelled against the Marquis Nunziante, and in 1896 they founded the town in the territory of Gioia Tauro , choosing precisely this beautiful name, which was also a challenge to the marquis, as if they were telling him, with the air of a civil and political battle: “We will now give life to a new era, we will be free!”».
The strong theme of the entire novel is in fact freedom: “A magical, calamitous thing.” And a value that subverts the narratives about a resigned, withdrawn Calabria…
«It is above all this that interested me from the beginning about Cerchiava: the desire for freedom of its founders, for rebellion against the powerful, who at the time and for many decades still were real feudal lords and decided the life and death of their subjects: a word that the people of Vesi rightly hated. The Calabria that I love and tell about, and that emerges from this and my other novels, is not at all resigned, not even in the face of the awareness that the strong and violent powers will perhaps prevail in the end, but if we give up before we start the fight, then we will never get rid of them.”
We cross-reference everything from those years that you talk about: from Baglioni to the Moro case. But there is no nostalgia, and this too is a conscious subversion of clichés. There is no lost Eden, but an “us” that is recreated every time a story is told. Is it the meaning, too, of writing?
«I have avoided nostalgia, especially the plaintive kind, since my first book came out in German in 1984 (“The Wall of Walls”, now in the Mondadori Oscars), because it blocks people’s lives. In this book, more than ever, themes and tones are subverted, or addressed from new points of view, not of a single narrator, least of all from the omniscient one of the writer, but from multiple voices, single and choral, from an “us” which constantly changes tone and rhythm, depending on what it narrates. It is a voice that intrigues me, which I have heard since I was a child in the alleys of my town, in the shoemakers’ shops, and which I found when speaking with groups of surviving Eravo residents. I feel it is so authentic, this voice, so mine, that in the audiobook for Audible I wanted to be the one to read the pages in which the country tells the story, while the rest of the book was read by a professional actor (Alessio Talamo). If this is the meaning of writing, I couldn’t say: I tell urgent, sometimes removed stories like this one, avoiding as much as possible everything that is artificial, superfluous, inauthentic.”
Tutelary deity is Gabriel García Márquez: the story of Macondo that the protagonist reads and rereads is intertwined with the story of Erava, also that desired town, in the middle of nowhere, a town built with stubbornness, a town that wants to be happy. But yours is not magical realism, even if it takes the choral sense of community and certain enchantments from that. Is Calabria all a bit Macondo, and destined for a hundred years of solitude?
«When I learned about the history of Erava, Macondo immediately came to mind: both villages born at the end of the nineteenth century, both with an identical destiny and great fabulous, epic characters. Both happy, at the beginning, so much so that the epigraph from Márquez that I chose for this book seems to have been written for Cerchia: “It was truly a happy country, where no one was over thirty and where no one had died”. There is a surprising affinity in the foundation between the two countries (but the foundations of the countries are often mythical, so is that of my country, Carfizzi, founded by a group of refugees fleeing from Albania invaded by the Ottoman Empire, seeking freedom in a foreign country). But there is also a substantial difference in the end. And in any case there is not just one Calabria, there are many, and there is certainly a Calabria-Macondo that lives and has lived one hundred years, or rather a thousand years of solitude, forced by the powerful of every era not only into solitude, but also into poverty, exploitation and then escape, emigration. SONOVA tried to rebel against all this and, for a certain period, it was truly a happy, free country, where people had a dignified life and farmers managed to send their children to school, they had fine citrus groves and olive groves, a sea and a beach crowded with tourists”.
Finally the language, which has a very particular dialect color: this time you have chosen a dialect that is not exactly yours, it is Reggio. The collective “we” speak this language, and the characters of the community: dialect as a language of belonging, and not of realism. What stylistic operation is it?
«This has been my stylistic signature since my first German book: sounds and words from other languages that get caught up in my pages and evoke stories in me. The dialect coloring is actually the voice with which the surviving Eravesi told me their most intimate, most secret stories, making an effort to speak to me in Italian, but with a rhythm all their own, musical, beautiful, interspersed with single dialect words that my Non-Calabrian readers will understand completely. A language that I filter among my languages, a language that I reinvent. Precisely the fascination that this language, which you rightly call “language of belonging”, has on me has meant that “A happy country” became a story of voices, one different from the others. The first is that of Lina, the young protagonist of the novel, rebellious and stubborn like her ancestors who were founders of Erava, the last is the chameleonic one of the town. And holding together all these story-telling voices, bearers of true or epic stories (like those of master Cenzo, who comes from Morano Calabro, or of Petraro, who is originally from Stromboli) there is the narrator: a young man who, as me, at the beginning of the story he was twenty years old, he listened to Battisti and Rino Gaetano, he hated injustice and bullies, he fought with Lina against the colossal madness that was about to descend on Erava, and he read Márquez on the beach of Erava. It is he who many years later, faced with regional and national bad conscience, which did everything to bury this story in oblivion, would remember ERAVAN and would stubbornly try to dig up its deepest memory…” .
And with this Marquezian counterincipit, Carmine Abate takes us inside his new story, so that it belongs to everyone again.