I am spending the next couple of days with my Dutch publishers in Amsterdam (full report to follow next week!). But meanwhile, I am checking in here to invite you to a very special event which will be taking place on Friday, at my home from home in Turin, Spazio 19 Coworking. More details below...
Lettori e amici Torinesi, questo venerdi' il 16 presentiamo il libro La Casa sull'Isola a Spazio 19 Coworking, alle 18:30. Ci sara' un assaggio di vino da La Bottega Store, e poi qualche letture del libro da Stefano Visconti e discussione col giornalista Marco Panzarella. Gratis! Tutti i dettagli (e inscrizione per l'assaggio di vino e stuzzichini, da non mancare!) qua. Mi farebbe tanto piacere vedervi.
This week, I am very happy to present the paperback covers for the US/Canadian and UK editions of The House at the Edge of Night. Here they are...
The one on the left is the US/Canadian version, and the one on the right the UK. The UK edition will be out on the 15th of June, but is currently available exclusively at WHSmith travel shops if you want to get hold of it before the official publication date. And the US/Canadian editions arrive shortly after, both on the 20th of June. Two very different interpretations, but I think both the cover designers have done an excellent job of turning the story into an image that somehow captures the spirit of the book. Let me know what you think!
This week was a busy one for me and for the city of Turin. Here's a round-up of what's been happening, mostly in photos.
1. On Wednesday, I presented my book at the Circolo dei Lettori. The Readers' Circle, which I've mentioned before, is a place where you can listen to free talks by writers almost every night. I've been many times as a reader, but never yet as a writer. And it was also the first time I had presented the book in Italian to readers. Everything went well, thanks in large part to the Circolo, to the fantastic blogger Noemi Cuffia, who was co-presenting with me, and the friends and readers who showed up. One of the most amazing moments, incidentally, was when two readers arrived to speak to me afterwards who turned out to be fans of my first young adult book (published in Italy nearly ten years ago). Elisa and Gaia, if you ever come across this page, thanks so much for your enthusiasm for a book that I thought Italian readers had forgotten all about! Here are a few photos from the event...
2. The second (slightly bigger) happening this week was Turin's Salone del Libro, which I attended on Friday. It's held every year in the buildings which once housed the famous Fiat factory, and it's one of the city's most important yearly events. This year's festival, themed 'Oltre il Confine' ('Across the Border'), took place from Thursday 18th May until today, Monday 22nd. I attended the event purely as a reader (though I did get a chance to catch up with Raffaella, one of the brilliant agent team who helped sell my book in Italy, who was there from London). I started the day by attending a panel discussion on Elena Ferrante and feminism, chaired by the journalist Loredana Lipperini. Also speaking were the American writers Dayna Tortorici and Emily Witt, and the critic Tiziana de Rogatis from Siena, who spoke beautifully, I thought, about the meaning and significance of Elena Ferrante, both personally and in terms of her place as Italy's most successful writer who is currently living. I then tried and failed to attend a Daniel Pennac event with some friends (he is VERY popular in Italy, it turns out), before instead wandering into a talk by the two mathematicians Paolo Canova and Diego Rizzuto, whose book, Fate il Nostro Gioco (play our game) is about the mathematics of gambling and turned out to be fascinating. I also listened to a talk about how book-selling compares across Europe, in the professional area of the festival building, which was technical but fascinating for anyone who works in the book trade. The day ended with readings and discussion of the partisan movement, to mark seventy years since the publication of one of the most important texts of the Italian resistance, The Path to the Spiders' Nests (Il Sentiero dei Nidi di Ragno) by Italo Calvino. The discussion was accompanied by music by Cisco, a folk musician, and it was very moving to be here in the city which was at the centre of the resistance (and has been at the centre of my research over the last two years), hearing the songs of those resistance fighters come alive again.
So that was my round-up of the day. I also feel this photo is a pretty accurate representation of what it was like to walk around the conference centre, but that's all to the good. They were worried about reduced numbers this year... Probably not any more.
3. And finally, in unrelated news, Juventus won the Italian league yesterday and turned the rest of the weekend into a festa. I took a few photos, and I like this one best - for me, this sums up Turin: elegant palaces and football fans armed with fireworks coexisting (more or less) harmoniously.
A bilingual blog post this week, to announce a very exciting event which is happening this week in my adoptive hometown, Turin...
This is normally a page for sharing news about my books - which, incidentally, deal with the rise of Fascism in Italy during the 1920s and 30s. But today, in light of recent world events, I feel that I can't remain silent. As writers, we are often very good at making beautifully-worded statements and not so good at taking real-world action. This just isn't good enough. I know that readers look to us to see how we react when the situations we deal with in our books repeat themselves and come knocking at our door - situations, often, relating to human rights. As Edith Wharton affirmed, 'Art is on the side of the oppressed'. But if we are going to be writers worth our salt, we need to be on the side of the oppressed in deeds as well as words. So I wanted to tell you about some of the concrete things, over the past few days, that I have felt compelled to do as a writer and as a human being.
Although I am a European, most of my readers are American, and what I have learned over the past year is that yours is a wonderful country full of people who believe in the values of human rights, tolerance and peace, a beautiful community which comes from all backgrounds and cultures. So I feel I can't remain silent when I see so many of you raising your voices in defence of those values and each other, hoping that the world is listening. We are listening, and we hear you. Most of the writers I admire have also been doing the same things I have - not because we are generous, or heroic, but because basic human decency requires it. If you, like me, are watching unfolding events in the US with increasing concern, I hope this will help you with some ideas for concrete, peaceful action.
1. I donated to ACLU, the organisation which is successfully challenging detentions of Muslim Americans and visitors to America, with the help of brilliant pro bono lawyers. You can donate here: https://www.aclu.org/
2. I wrote to Theresa May, who is my prime minister and who I believe needs to do more. You can do the same here: https://email.number10.gov.uk/ (Or, if you are not British, you can ask your own government to do the same or, importantly, thank them if they have!).
3. I contacted my UK member of parliament to ask her to urge Theresa May to do more, along with other world leaders, to oppose Trump's recent immigration ban and uphold the values of peace and tolerance which are so important, historically, to the American people. If you are British too, you can do the same here: https://www.writetothem.com/
4. I signed this petition, which has just passed one million signatures: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/171928/
5. I signed this global letter: https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/deartrump/
6. An important one, this: I made sure that I was following those people, often Muslim writers and writers of colour / BAME writers, and many of them senior journalists, who are generously offering their time on social media to report on and analyse current events. Their voices are the ones we need to step back and signal boost right now, and they can get news out, often, faster than the official news sources they work for.
7. I renewed my membership to Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/join/
8. I also, recently, joined PEN International, and if you are a writer you absolutely need to be a member too: http://www.pen-international.org/join-us/
Meanwhile, as I've already mentioned, along with some colleagues I am busy setting up a group of writers from all countries and backgrounds who wish to peacefully unite to uphold and defend human rights in a more dedicated and long-term way, in partnership with organisations like PEN. Like many other writers, I believe that artists need to remain peaceful, strive for tolerance, uphold free speech, and be active participants in the world we seek to make sense of through our work. Please know, if you are feeling alone or suffering during current events, that many writers stand with you, and we are trying to be better allies of our readers and to do more. If your favourite writer isn't saying or doing anything about the issues that you care about - particularly if they are, like me, a white writer who is in the privileged position of not being directly threatened by current events - feel free to contact them and politely ask them why. You – diverse readers – buy our books and pay our salaries. And if you are a fellow writer or a reader and want to help with the group, please let me know. You would be incredibly welcome.
With very best wishes for peace and safety today to all my readers, wherever in the world you are,
Wishing all my readers a very Happy New Year from Italy! This was the 27th of December in Sicily, and though I couldn't persuade any of my Italian family or friends into the sea with me there was a man in Speedos actually swimming so that proves it was warm enough...
Over the past few weeks I've been silent, partly because I ended 2016 with very mixed feelings and quite exhausted, like many others, but also partly because I've been working on various positive things which will be happening in 2017. Including: my next book, which is due in to Penguin Random House at the beginning of the summer; plans for Italian publication of The House at the Edge of Night; plans for paperback publication (in English) of The House at the Edge of Night; setting up a group with fellow writers to support free speech and equality; and a not-for-profit project called VOICE for which I'm the writing advisor (more about all this very soon). And, of course, I've been spending time with friends and family and away from the internet, which has been restorative. But I did have time for some research in Sicily just before the holiday break, and so here are just a few photos of that beautiful place which was the starting point for The House at the Edge of Night and which will probably find its way, in some form, onto the pages of Book Two as well.
Thank you to all my readers for your steadfast support for my work, and for writers, in 2016, and wishing you a peaceful and happy start to 2017.
Sometimes, as a writer, the ways in which readers discover your book will surprise you. Some books do well with book clubs, or with libraries, or with a certain demographic who weren't expected to like them. Or else they become bestsellers in countries where no one had thought they would (my first young adult book was apparently a hit in Estonia, for instance). This has also been the case with The House at the Edge of Night. It turns out that audio books are having a surge in interest at the moment, and The House at the Edge of Night is proving popular with listeners. This is thanks in major part to the narrator, Edoardo Ballerini, whose recording is so good that I ended up listening to the whole 24 hours of it despite having read it at least a couple of times already. But it's still been exciting, and unexpected, to discover that a large number of The House at the Edge of Night's readers are actually listeners.
This makes me happy partly because of how fitting it is. A book like The House at the Edge of Night, which draws inspiration from a tradition of oral storytelling as diverse as Dickens, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and some man at the local bar, is meant to be 'heard' or 'listened to', even if the only voice narrating is the one in the reader's head. And it has also got me thinking about what it means to 'read' a book. In a world where books are constantly lamented as being at risk of extinction, I find it oddly comforting to think that someone could be accessing The House at the Edge of Night through a bookshop or free at a library; through printed pages, on an e-reader, a computer or a smartphone; in US English, British English, Russian, Czech, Danish or translated back into Italian - and, now, also, on a CD, read aloud. Which, in a way, is the oldest way of reading a story of them all.
Last month I was invited to do an interview for a magazine called AudioFile about the audio book. It brought up some interesting things: the oral storytelling tradition, what makes a good narrator for a cross-cultural novel which draws on more than one language, and my own long-standing love of audio books (which mostly has to do with being a teacher, a two-hour commute and insomnia, but is no less heartfelt for all that!). If you want to read more about how a reader can also be a listener, and how the audio book version of The House at the Edge of Night got made, the full AudioFile interview is here. And I also wrote an essay for the Books on Tape blog over the summer, which you can read here.
That's all for now, but thanks, audio book listeners, for surprising me over the last few months by embracing the book!
This week, I heard the exciting news that The House at the Edge of Night is going to be published in Italian. This is also the twentieth language in which the book will be published, which seems fitting, since it's a particularly important one for me. When I began writing this book, it was set in Italy, it was in Italian that I did much of the research, and since writing it, Italy has also become my home. So I'm thrilled that, thanks to TEA Libri who will be publishing it over here, readers in my adoptive country will now be able to read the book too.
Meanwhile, there are a few international editions already out in the world. First was the Danish edition, Huset ved Nattens Ende, translated by Alis Friis Caspersen, which came out in August. Next the German edition, Die langen Tage von Castellamare (Long Days on Castellamare), translated by Marion Balkenhol. And then, at the beginning of October, this beauty, Dom Na Skraju Nocy, appeared in Poland, translated by Hanna Pasierska.
Translators, like cover designers, don't always get a lot of credit or thanks, but I'm very grateful to these gifted women for bringing The House at the Edge of Night to the non-English speakers who are, after all, most of my readers. And I'm also quite impressed with how quickly they have managed to translate it! I'm always fascinated by how different a book looks in each language in which it is published. More creative international cover designs to come soon...
Earlier this week, an Italian reporter claimed to have uncovered, through a rather bizarre and intrusive piece of investigative journalism, the identity of one of my favourite writers in the world, Elena Ferrante. This was probably bound to happen sooner or later. Ferrante is female, and Ferrante is a great writer, and there are people in this world who believe the coincidence of those two facts is so rare as to require some kind of biographical explanation. Nevertheless, Elena Ferrante’s real name is big news, and is causing some bitterness and controversy. The debate, principally, is between those who believe this is a matter of public interest, and those (like me) who feel the writer has been compromised, who believe this wasn’t a ‘mystery’ to be solved at all but an issue of privacy and respect, and who would rather Ferrante hadn’t been ‘unmasked’ in the first place.
I have always believed, in a world obsessed with images of writers, with ‘knowing’, ‘seeing’ and ‘encountering’ writers, particularly female writers, that Ferrante was a last testament to the anonymous power of the written word. With the unmasking of her identity, that last pillar has fallen. But in another sense, it strikes me that what we talk about when we talk about Elena Ferrante has always, rather tiresomely, been her identity. Her anonymity – perhaps because of its femaleness – has always been a space into we have projected our speculations. Often, these speculations have been irrelevant, or even offensive. Might she be married? A mother? Neapolitan? Divorced? Might a man have written her work? This is odd. Why is the main conversation we have been having, over the years, about such an important world writer, one in which the writer herself is forced into the limelight, discussed in terms of issues such as marital status, appearance, social background, finances and family life, while the work goes unmentioned? Does this help us appreciate her writing? Or does it rather (given the sensitive subject matter she deals with) jeopardise that very writing – its realism, its intimacy, its specificity? Would such insistence on ‘unmasking’ and ‘exposing’ and ‘revealing’ happen if the pseudonym were, instead, Mario Ferrante or Edoardo Ferrante, and the books centred on male characters? Troubled by such questions, I have always – like many fans – preferred the conceit with which Ferrante herself presented us: that the name ‘Elena Ferrante’ was a fictional construction who should stand in for the writer, allowing the work to speak for itself.
Therefore, this week I want to do what no one else is doing and talk about Elena Ferrante’s work: what it is, and what it means to me, and why it is worth reading, without reference to her ‘identity’ at all.
I first discovered Elena Ferrante while I was learning Italian. Like many language learners, I came to this language through necessity. My husband is Italian, and I knew that at some point sooner or later I was probably going to be an immigrant in this country, required to understand, to communicate, to integrate myself, in a place in which I had the distinct disadvantage of not having grown up. So I learned as much Italian as I could by ear, and then I turned to books. At the time I discovered Ferrante’s work, I was looking for books that were accessible to someone like me, keen to learn the language better but still limited. I bought a copy of L’Amica Geniale chiefly because I understood the first paragraph. At the beginning, I read with a dictionary, mirroring the diligence – a fact which struck me as amusing, at the time – of the studious character of Elena in the book, with her spectacles and second-hand textbooks, keen to get ahead but with mountains of missing knowledge, always instead limping behind. The books, in a way, became in my own mind a mirror for my journey towards fluency in Italian – at first they are written in the simple prose of childhood, then the more impassioned run-on sentences of Elena’s teenage voice, until the adult woman bursts forth, articulate and intelligent and more certain of herself.
Within a few chapters, however, I had put the dictionary away and was merely reading. The language of the book pulled me in – simple without ever being trite, violent and urgent without ever being graphic, unafraid to mimic the plain speech of childhood or the self-educated (useful for a second-language reader with a limited Italian vocabulary) without ever being childish or dull. In these words, I also found something immediate and real which I had not found before in any language. Ferrante wrote in a way I had never seen before about childhood, about womanhood, about education and social background and violence and aspiration – even about writing. On a deeply personal level, the passage where the young writer first sees herself in a newspaper, posing self-consciously in the familiar locations of her hometown, is the only realistic evocation of this experience I have ever found. Ferrante is not afraid to plumb the depths of every experience – the humiliating, exposing, unadmirable aspects of our consciousnesses, and our selves. For this reason, the books felt to me like something entirely new.
When the books began to achieve success in translation, therefore, I was delighted, but also a little surprised. Often, the images of Italy which filter into the English-speaking world are one-sided ones. So many of the English-language books I had encountered about Italy previously were written by British and American writers who had spent less time in the country than I had, who did not speak the language, and whose project was principally a touristic one, of chronicling the country from the outside in a way that portrayed only certain aspects of the place. Now, here was an Italy that felt like a real place, characters who embodied aspects of the country I recognised. And it was with this Italy that English-language readers fell in love, despite its dirt streets, its poverty, its violence, its dusty alleyways, and the most unglamorous, and probably truest, depiction of the small-time mafia I have ever found in any novel. Because, I realised, Elena Ferrante’s Napoli was a place, like the settings of all truly great literature, which through its specificity opened up great vistas of human nature, and became everywhere.
I read Storia del Nuovo Cognome in a couple of months, and Storia di Chi Fugge e di Chi Resta in a week or two. Storia della Bambina Perduta took me 48 hours. Then, immediately, I went back and read the books in English to find out what I had missed. By that time, I was, as I had predicted, an immigrant in Italy. And an odd thing happened during these post-Ferrante months: I found myself continuing to refer to the writer as I went about my daily life, as though she were a kind of ministering angel. When discussions of Italian politics began among my extended family or in the local bar, I navigated my way by Ferrante’s books, using them as a kind of social history of the twentieth century by which, as an immigrant who had spent her formative years elsewhere, I could ground myself. Ah yes, I would think, as though I had actually lived it. The period when everybody was communist. The building boom after the war. I know those things, because Ferrante wrote about them in her books. Since the character of Elena in the books lives in Torino, and this is the city where I also live, I developed a private theory that the writer lived here too. I imagined her somewhere genteel but faded, close to the river Po. When, sometimes, I was lonely here during my first months, I imagined that Ferrante might be walking the streets I walked, going in and out of the squares and palaces, and I found that oddly comforting. Strangely, I knew nothing about her, and yet I felt that I knew her better than any writer I had read.
I hesitated to write this essay, knowing that it would be a personal, not a critical appraisal of Ferrante, with very little new, in a literary-critical sense, to say about her work. But then it strikes me that the measure of a great writer is this: how far a reader distant from them in time and space can still discover themselves, intimately, in the work. So I want to say this: what we talk about when we talk about Elena Ferrante shouldn't be her earnings, her husband, her age, her looks, her ‘real name’. It should be her books. Elena Ferrante already exists – she is inscribed in every word she writes. This week, I discovered, like many people, that I don’t want to know anything else about. So, if you are considering reading the article which ‘unmasked’ her, I don’t recommend it. Instead, pick up one of her books. To read her work is to inhabit the mind of a great master of literature and life, a connection far more intimate than any poring over biographical details and superficial clues can give you. And I promise you won’t be disappointed with the real Elena Ferrante, who is no one else but the brave and gifted self already present in every word.
So this isn't really news, since I've been working on it on and off for more than a year, but over the past couple of weeks it has finally become a real thing rather than a vague collection of notes and sketches. It's official: I am working on a new book.
The strange thing that no one tells you about writers is that those of us who work for publishers (as opposed to self-published or uncontracted ones) work to an odd, time-shifted schedule. While readers are just in the process of discovering your new book, you are usually already working on something new. This is mainly because of how the publication process works. In an ideal world without unexpected illness, family emergencies, other jobs, kids, writer's block or procrastination, writers would deliver a book every two years. This rarely happens, but it's the aim. Since it takes over a year for a publisher to prepare a book for publication, to keep to this schedule you actually have to hand in your new book around 9-12 months after your previous one has been published. This means writers are always looking two ways simultaneously (think of it sort of like a parent with one kid preparing to leave home and one just starting pre-school). Commercial and genre writers have a harder job, because they are often trying to hand in a second book before the first one is even released, to keep to a one-book-a-year schedule. All of this is really to say that I haven't spoken much about this new project yet, because most people - understandably - want to talk to me about the current book, not some awkward future one which is still in note form on my desk. But it has been happening, invisibly, alongside the work I've been doing for The House at the Edge of Night. And for the next year, the plan is to work on it more or less full time. As a writer, your projects are not as separate as they might seem. They are actually chain-linked together by theme and purpose, part of a body of work which goes beyond one particular book, so it's been a relief to finally start some serious work on this new one, which picks up a lot of what I started, creatively, with The House at the Edge of Night.
So far, the process of working on the new book has involved many things. Among them, library research...
And home research...
And more research (this late-night reading session got a bit creepy when I realised I was reading about my own apartment building, which was built in 1937 and is apparently part of a new social housing development built by the Fascist government)...
And, you'll be pleased to see, some actual writing...
I'm looking forward to telling you more about the project over the coming months. What I can say is that it's another historical story, following a small community over a period of twentieth-century history towards the present day, and it involves the Italian partisan movement, a small town, its factory and one extended family with an extraordinary history, two world wars, and a weird miracle which no one knows what to make of.
Meanwhile, I am chronicling a year of my writing life via an Instagram story in 365 chapters. I started the project mainly as an experiment to see what a year of a writer's life looked like, but I think this next few months will actually be one of the most interesting parts. If you want to see how a book gets made (I hope it's going to be a chronicle of that, rather than of writer's block, but you never know!), you can follow here: www.instagram.com/catherinebanner. Now back to the new book.
News, updates, photos and occasional long-form essays from my writing desk in Turin.
Notizie, foto e scritti provenienti dalla mia scrivania a Torino. (Ogni tanto anche bilingue.)
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