Strega Award, in the living flesh of narratives: the first stop of the finalists' tour is back in Sicily


By John

The last in line said it, in the universal arbitrariness of the alphabetical order according to which they were lined up, in their first public outing since twelve of the Strega, the platoon par excellence of Italian literature. Dario Voltolini said it: «Stories pass through the flesh». She spoke of his story, it applied to everyone, perhaps it always applies. Certainly for us who had come to greet thisdebut of the Strega Tour, hosted for the second time in a row in Sicily, in Catania (this time in the perfect beauty of the former Benedictine monastery), thanks to the stubbornness of Simone Dei Pieri, young creator and organizer (aided by a very young team) of the Catania Book Festival, whose magnificent obsession is always the same: not to create “events” literary but building communities of readers.

He said it, simply, in the short introductory speech (after greetings from the Disum director, Marina Paino, for the University of Catania; from Giuseppe D'Ippolito for the Federico II Foundation – Sicilian Region; from the municipal councilor for public education Andrea Guzzardi; by Valerio Valzelli for Bper Banca, national sponsor of the Award), who skipped the fuss to give the real numbers: those of closed or unusable libraries, those of school dropouts, those of zero readers: those who in the last 12 months have not he hasn't even read a single book. We were there, people of readers and writers, and we could well have been yet another “event” (one's thoughts inevitably turn to lavishly financed and publicized self-referential reviews and festivals…), of those where the invited writers are exhibited like medals, and instead – like said Dei Pieri – it was about being «a community free to imagine a different ending». A community that grows readers, and looks to the “after” of meetings and applause.

Living flesh, that too. Crossed, torn if necessary, by stories, but also infinitely repaired by the power of stories: this is the case of history, lacerating, healing, of «On the same side you will find me» (SEM, proposed by Franco Di Mare) by Valentina Mira – the young author herself recently under attack from right-wing exponents who have not forgiven her for having implemented a counter-narrative that «dismantles victim-based and egalitarian mythologies». Mira, who claimed «not to have written a book against, but a book with», pointed out, there in the audience, Rossella, the widow of her protagonist, Mario Scrocca, a forgotten victim, accused of having taken part in the double murder of Acca Larentia and died a death still inexplicable, still unbearable, in prison. Flesh made history, history that once again becomes presence, testimony, flesh.

Never like this year, perhaps, has history, the great history of heroes and artists, the ugly history of crime news, the history that becomes autobiography (or vice versa), been embodied in the stories, in the voices of the rose (the names of the shortlist) of the Twelve (but in reality eleven: Paolo Di Paolo was unable to intervene), who conversed with two young but certainly talented Sicilian writers, very good at touching the sensitive points in the “meat” of the novels: Lorena Spampinato and Mattia Insolia.

The story of a formidable artist, who perhaps we would have lost, if Adrián N. Bravi, Argentinian, had not met in Italy, in Recanati, Adelaida Gigli, Italian and Argentine, to whom he dedicated the intense «Adelaida» (Nutrimenti, proposed by Romana Petri): artist, activist, poet, cruelly affected by the dictatorship, she «conceived beauty as an open wound, and was around it». Beauty is wounded, beauty is balm.

The story of a Byzantine emperor, the fascinating and cruel Giovanni Zimisce: Sonia Aggio took us to him, «In the emperor's room» (Fazi, proposed by Simona Cives) to «reconstruct his mind, his humanity», through battles and conspiracies, betrayals and even witchcraft, above all to retrace his shadow, because the facts, the naked facts, are both the manifestation and hiding place of men , and literature must reach them, find them, make them human again.

«Human», on the other hand, is the spy-adjective that appears in two titles: the «Novel without humans» (Feltrinelli, proposed by Gianni Amelio) by Paolo Di Paolo, a story of glaciations, both of places and of souls, because the way in which macro and microclimate, macro and microcosm influence each other is an entirely human affair of literature.

Just as “human” is the story of another scourge, this time contemporary: xylella, the bacterium that has so far exterminated something like 21 million olive trees (symbol-trees, history-trees, flesh-trees): with passion Daniele Rielli in «The invisible fire. Human story of a natural disaster” (Rizzoli, proposed by Antonio Pascale), transformed the story of an ecological and social drama into a novel: what is more human, after all, than “denialism” and “witch hunts”? Here too a narrative to unmask narratives, dismantle them. Human, too human.

And another bacterium was brooding in the flesh of a story: in «Winter» (The Ship of Theseus, proposed by Sandro Veronesi), Dario Voltolini tells of his father, a butcher and in some way guardian of a threshold – his sinking of his hands into the meat, preparing it for others who do not want to know about blood and blades – and betrayed, wounded by his own knowledge as a craftsman-priest. The bacterium infects his flesh and becomes – many years later – a story narrated by his son: “I don't know if it's a memoir – reflects the author – perhaps it's testimony”.

Yes, where is the border between what happens to you, in the flesh, and what becomes a story? And then, afterwards, can everything become a story? We heard it, painfully, in the words of Antonella Lattanzi, in her title which is an antiphrase: «Things that aren't told» (Einaudi, proposed by Valeria Parrella). Perhaps “literature is all made up of things that are not told”, painful things like the fear of being a mother (yes, she can also be tied to the desire to be one…), abortion, obstetric violence. And today, in the days we are living in, you drew a long round of applause for the firmness with which you recalled “how fundamental the right to legal and safe abortion is”, the importance of giving a voice to “medicalized bodies, reduced to silence”. Because if “nothing comes from desperation, a novel can be born from anger”.

But there is also a way to invent our own story differently: in «Story of my money» (Bompiani, proposed by Nadia Terranova), the Catanian Melissa Panarello – who yesterday somehow returned to “her” Catania, in the same place as her first, very remote, presentation – has undertaken a “painful and furious journey” in her history , with another self, Clara, the actress who played her in the film adaptation of the first, successful, scandalous novel. What an uncomfortable truth he wanted to state out loud (because novels are all truths out loud): «Money, precisely the kind that is a taboo, like sex, because it has to do with matter, reveals what you are, they tell your story.”

But autobiography is also a relationship with those who come before, a relationship that is forged by, with language: isn't it clear to each of us, after Natalia Ginzburg, how much we are made, and unmade, of our “family lexicon”? Tommaso Giartosio invents the«Autobiogrammar» (minimum fax, proposed by Emanuele Trevi): life as an atlas of language (and vice versa), its shaping of reality and being shaped by it, with all its legacy of “welcome and conflict” in the relationship with our parents (in first place of the word: family).

And generations are the torment: a chain of flesh and languages, of legacies and feelings and pain. A new chapter has been written by Donatella Di Pietrantonio «The fragile age» (Einaudi, proposed by Vittorio Lingiardi): the tiring, sometimes impossible dialogue between three different generations, and each has its own fragility, “but more fragile is the one who does not name his own fragility”, and tries to cushion, to quiet , to repair. But there are dark and remote things that instead ask for strength and words. And the powerful theme of gender violence arises, a violence that returns from the past (here too a real, forgotten story that becomes flesh again).

But don't think that only pain has the right to speak: he claimed a “right to anxiety”, speaking for the protagonist of his «Who says and who is silent» (Sellerio, proposed by Matteo Motolese) Chiara Valerio, who, in her explosive way, cited the well-known «principle of explosion» logic, «ex fama quodlibet», because «the beauty of the lie is that it cannot be contradicted by those who tell us he loves”. And so her protagonist, Lea, an otherwise happy woman, chooses the restlessness of an investigation into a death that seems absurd to her, revolutionizing every affective metric system and every positional income.

And then the final word can only be heal, cure: right from the title, «Fixing the universe» (Mondadori, proposed by Lia Levi) by Raffaella Romagnolo is the story of a humanity in need of repair, that of the schoolgirl Francesca, who was once called Ester, in post-war Italy where the rubble is not only physical and the school – we are in 1945, it is the first school year after the war – «it is the answer» (like today, and we know it well, says the author, after having lived through the pandemic). Perhaps the teacher Gilla will be able to save Francesca, give her Ester back.

Don't we ask it, perhaps, always, of all books: tell us, save us?