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Rebel States

Tim Parks: Surrender by Gondola, 1 December 2005

The Siege of Venice 
by Jonathan Keates.
Chatto, 495 pp., £20, September 2005, 0 7011 6637 1
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... In the 13th century, Florence banned its noble families from holding public office and instituted a republic. The names of a few hundred select citizens were placed in leather bags and every two months a new government was drawn by lot. In more conservative Venice, a group of nobles simply elected one of their number doge for life. There was no question of hereditary succession ...

Che pasticcio!

Tim Parks: Carlo Emilio Gadda, 20 September 2007

That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana 
by Carlo Emilio Gadda, translated by William Weaver.
NYRB, 388 pp., £8.99, February 2007, 978 1 59017 222 3
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... Despite his eighty years (1893-1973) and many publications, an air of incompletion lingers about the work of Carlo Emilio Gadda. His most popular novel, That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, is an unfinished murder story. His best work, Acquainted with Grief, is again unfinished and again leaves us with an unsolved crime (in this case we are not even sure whether the victim will die or not ...

Full of Words

Tim Parks: ‘Arturo’s Island’, 15 August 2019

Arturo’s Island 
by Elsa Morante, translated by Ann Goldstein.
Pushkin, 370 pp., £9.99, May 2019, 978 1 78227 495 7
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... Given​ the current enthusiasm for the practice of literary translation, the frequent claims that this or that English version captures or even surpasses the original, one might suppose that there is little point in reading a foreign novel in the original language. Yet some literary styles remain elusive in translation. The characters in Elsa Morante’s masterpiece, Arturo’s Island, are bewitched and bewitching, in thrall to someone, or to some idea, and, simultaneously, enthralling to someone else ...

Talking Corpses

Tim Parks: ‘Gomorrah’, 4 December 2008

Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia 
by Roberto Saviano, translated by Virginia Jewiss.
Pan, 424 pp., £8.99, October 2008, 978 0 330 45099 7
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Gomorrah 
directed by Matteo Garrone.
October 2008
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... When Lot lived in Sodom and Gomorrah,’ Peter wrote in his Second Epistle, ‘he was oppressed and tormented day after day by their lawless deeds.’ Having grown up in Naples, Roberto Saviano is similarly tormented and oppressed. Gomorrah is his account of the lawless deeds of the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia. Conveniently assonant as the two names may be, the crimes of Naples are not those we associate with the Cities of the Plain, and Saviano is not the righteous man who withdraws when God steps in to incinerate the sinful townsfolk ...

Bloody Glamour

Tim Parks: Giuseppe Mazzini, 30 April 2009

Giuseppe Mazzini and the Globalisation of Democratic Nationalism 1830-1920 
edited by C.A. Bayly and Eugenio Biagini.
Oxford, 419 pp., £45, September 2008, 978 0 19 726431 7
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... On 22 February 1854, James Buchanan, then the American ambassador in London but soon to be president of the US, celebrated George Washington’s birthday with a dinner to which Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi were invited. At Mazzini’s request other leading revolutionaries were present: Kossuth (Hungary), Worcell (Poland), Ruge (Germany), Herzen (Russia) and Ledru-Rollin (France ...

The Truth about Consuela

Tim Parks: Death and Philip Roth, 4 November 2010

Nemesis 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 280 pp., £16.99, October 2010, 978 0 224 08953 1
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... In the 1980s I translated some of the late novels and stories of Alberto Moravia, elderly but still prolific. These books, which abandoned observation of society for concerns with ageing and sex, did not get a good press and have since disappeared from the shelves, while Moravia’s earlier work will be a part of Italian education for decades to come ...

A Pair of Yellow Gloves

Tim Parks: Stendhal’s ‘Italian Chronicles’, 18 October 2017

Italian Chronicles 
by Stendhal, translated by Raymond MacKenzie.
Minnesota, 344 pp., £20.99, May 2017, 978 1 5179 0011 3
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... There are​ so many Stendhals – art historian, music critic, travel writer, novelist, political pundit, opera buff, soldier, bureaucrat, diplomat, sparkling conversationalist and incorrigible womaniser – that the reader may despair of conceiving any overall project undertaken by the man baptised Marie-Henri Beyle in 1783. Aside from ‘Stendhal’ there were scores of pseudonyms, any number of unfinished writings and thousands of letters and journal pages in which Beyle often signs himself or even refers to himself using a variety of other names ...

Fresh, Generous, Colourful, Idyllic

Tim Parks: ‘Graziella’, 21 February 2019

Graziella 
by Alphonse de Lamartine, translated by Raymond MacKenzie.
Minnesota, 168 pp., £12.99, November 2018, 978 1 5179 0247 6
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... Ecstasy​ and chastity. In Alphonse de Lamartine’s two most famous novels, a young man and woman seem to feel for each other what we usually think of as romantic love, but never become lovers, don’t kiss and hardly touch. The ostensible reasons for this are social and moral. In Graziella, the class difference between the young French aristocrat and the Neapolitan fisherman’s daughter makes marriage unimaginable to both of them ...

My Hermit’s Life

Tim Parks: Chateaubriand, 27 September 2018

Memoirs from beyond the Grave 1768-1800 
by François-René de Chateaubriand, translated by Alex Andriesse.
NYRB, 512 pp., £12.99, January 2018, 978 1 68137 129 0
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... The Lord giveth​ and the Lord taketh away. Likewise François-René de Chateaubriand. Again and again, in this first volume of Memoirs from beyond the Grave, a character is introduced only for their death to be immediately announced. ‘President Le Pelletier de Rosambo, who later died with such courage, was, when I arrived in Paris, a model of frivolity ...

Prajapati

Tim Parks: Hugging a fraud, 19 February 1998

... was nothing before the mind.’ Mere chronology. Prajapati. Mahidasa Aitareya. Calasso. Parks. Tongueless, Sanskrit, Italian, English. I think about this improbable chain of communication. Prajapati, the Progenitor. Surely his state of pure mind was enormously different from the buzz of my thoughts now, constantly distracted by that fly, wondering ...

On and off the High Road

Tim Parks: Anglomania in Europe, 27 May 1999

Voltaire's Coconuts 
by Ian Buruma.
Weidenfeld, 326 pp., £18.99, March 1999, 0 297 64312 6
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... Italy has just come to the end of another referendum campaign. Two general elections ago a new system of voting was introduced. Instead of the extreme form of proportional representation in force since 1948, a first-past-the-post system was introduced for 75 per cent of the seats in the lower house, while 25 per cent would continue to be allotted on a proportional basis ...

Stewing Waters

Tim Parks: Garibaldi, 21 July 2005

Rome or Death: The Obsessions of General Garibaldi 
by Daniel Pick.
Cape, 288 pp., £16.99, July 2005, 0 224 07179 3
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... In 1822 Giacomo Leopardi was finally allowed to leave home and visit Rome. He was 24. A child prodigy, he had spent his life in the remote town of Recanati in the Italian Marche, governed at that time by the pope. He was extremely excited to be going on this first trip. Having read Cicero, Caesar, Livy and Tacitus, Rome was for him both the seat of past glory and the focus of his patriotic dream of a united Italy, a political credo he had assumed in rebellion against his reactionary father ...

Devils v. Dummies

Tim Parks: George Sand, 23 May 2019

La Petite Fadette 
by George Sand, translated by Gretchen van Slyke.
Pennsylvania State, 192 pp., £14.95, November 2017, 978 0 271 07937 0
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George Sand 
by Martine Reid, translated by Gretchen van Slyke.
Pennsylvania State, 280 pp., £21.95, May 2019, 978 0 271 08106 9
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... In​ 1821, aged 17, Aurore Dupin tried to kill herself by riding her horse into a deep river. Twenty-eight years later, Landry, a character in La Petite Fadette, a novel written by Dupin under her pen name George Sand, thinks about drowning himself in the river. By this time Sand’s readers would have been familiar with the suicide option. In her first novel, Indiana (1832), a serving girl drowns herself in a millpond while her mistress, the eponymous heroine, is saved from submerging herself in the Seine by her cousin Ralph, only for the two to plan a joint suicide years later ...

Stop It and Act

Tim Parks: Pavese’s Road to Suicide, 11 February 2010

This Business of Living: Diaries 1935-50 
by Cesare Pavese, translated by A.E. Murch.
Transaction, 350 pp., £24.50, March 2009, 978 1 4128 1019 7
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... Cesare Pavese kept a diary from 1935, when, aged 27, he was ‘exiled’ to Calabria for anti-Fascist activities, until 1950, when he committed suicide. During those years he became a successful poet and novelist, translated many celebrated American and British novels and, as chief editor at Einaudi, was responsible for publishing some of the most important writers of his time ...

After the Earthquake

Tim Parks: Silone and Silone, 9 July 2009

Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone 
by Stanislao Pugliese.
Farrar, Straus, 426 pp., $35, June 2009, 978 0 374 11348 3
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... The life story of the Italian writer and political activist Secondino Tranquilli, alias Ignazio Silone, is both disquieting in itself and a serious challenge for anyone who believes that the value of a work of literature can be entirely separated in our minds from the character and behaviour of the person who produced it. Essentially, there are two versions of the Silone story ...

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