I had the pleasant experience this week of attending an event in London – Translators’ Perspectives at Waterstones, Piccadilly, organized by neo-publisher and fellow literary translator Franca Simpson – presenting six works of fiction written by Italian women and translated into English by the star-studded panel of literary translators. A large and lively audience was treated to some amazing insights into the works translated, and why (and who) the professionals on the panel love translating.
A new discovery
Among the books featured was one by Italian author Michela Murgia whom I was very happy to be introduced to. Her translator, Silvester Mazzarella, made an engaging presentation and reading of his English translation of “Accabadora“, which revolves around an ancient Sardinian figure of the same name. In an interview published on the UK publisher’s (Maclehose) website, Michela explains, “There is no historical evidence documenting the role of Accabadoras in Sardinia, only folklore that regularly harks back to the person of a woman, often a widow, who of her own accord took on the role of accompanying the dying until their actual death. Legend has it that these women operated in Sardinia up until the 50’s.” Silvester’s reading was mesmerizing and spurred me on to find out more about Michela’s work.
Accabadora has been a great success. It has won seven literary prizes, including the prestigious Premio Campiello. The story – which “weaves a narrative of rare grace and subtlety into a sensual tapestry of local nuance, atmosphere and dialect” – is about a “midwife to the dying, easing their suffering and sometimes ending it, she is revered and feared in equal measure as the village’s Accabadora.”
Seven literary prizes, that’s seriously successful. But for Michela Murgia, success is definitely not about the “boring prize-giving ceremonies” which are all uncomfortable shoes and annoying TV presenters. How refreshing. And how amazing when she goes on to say, “the clothes are by far the best part of the experience.” A writer on my favourite wavelength, for sure!
A bit of literary Baader Meinhoff
Imagine my surprise when, before I had time to put fingers to keyboard and do some of my own research, as if my magic Michela Murgia popped up on my Facebook feed and in the local newspaper. It reminded me of the Baader Meinhoff syndrome when a thing you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere.
Within five minutes of making “friends” with Italian children’s writer Luisa Mattia, she’d posted something about Murgia. Then while I was enjoying a lazy Saturday morning with the newspapers, I came across an interview in Il Centro Quotidiano d’Abruzzo to promote Michela’s visit on Saturday 20/2 to a local Abruzzo bookshop. Wow. I do love a coincidence. Maybe I was being pointed to this writer for a reason. More than just her love (and mine) of clothes. What could it be?
The parallels, the protest writing, the passion
I went to the Maclehose website and read this:
“My first book was a protest book written to lay bare and publicly denounce the unjust working conditions within the call centers. It struck an unexpected chord and was in turn made into a successful film.” Definitely the kind of writing I love to read and promote.
What else was there to know about the Italian novelist?
Michela Murgia is a hugely successful writer. She’s also an active politician campaigning for the independence of her beloved Sardinia (oh the parallels, I still dream of an independent Scotland.) And there was more. I like to champion women’s writing, I like to use books to get children talking about diversity and respect for the other, I like to get involved in women’s causes. And guess what? So does Michela Murgia. In 2013, she co-authored a book called L’ho uccisa perché l’amavo’. Falso! [I killed her because I loved her. Wrong!] tackling the issues of violence on women in Italy.
That’s it. I was hooked. And even more convinced that events such as the one organized by Franca Simpson to promote both her own work – My Mother is a River by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, and that of other translators are so valuable. I came away that evening with three books by translators I knew but by Italian writers I didn’t. And very much the happier for it.
Now we can only hope that Silvester Mazzarella will soon be announcing an English translation of Michela’s new work, “Chiru‘” the theme of which could also be considered taboo: the delicate relationship between a woman and a much younger boy. A powerful story of passion, by a writer I think I might be getting passionate about.