It’s all in the grammar
I’ve been doing lots of reading workshops with children lately. Most of them have had either female protagonists or female authors (or both). It all started with La Grammatica La Fa La Differenza by one of my favourite Italian publishers (mammeonline). It’s a clever book full of ingenious stories that turn Italian sexist grammar on its head. Sexist? Italy?
The best one has to be about the princess who can’t marry prince charming because she’s too busy studying to be a lawyer (avvocatA, of course). Or a group of school children wondering why we can’t just be people (persone) instead of “men” (uomini) and live together instead of in fratellanza. Or asking themselves why suorA is okay for a nun but assessorA is not okay for a lady councillor. Equally confused is the girl who dreams that the bank (bancA) was actually just a bunch of school desks (bancO) in the street, or the door (portA) to her house had gone and turned into a harbour (portO). Lots of interesting conversations were had… and the idea gradually formed that if teachers are already addressing mixed groups of children collectively as just “boys” (ragazzi/bambini) when they’re young, then is it any wonder that women are often undervalued, disregarded or mistreated when they’re older?
Let’s all just read about cream cakes instead
Well, since it’s International Women’s Day, I thought I might pop in a few wee tips about other (as yet unpublished) books by or about women. Brought to us in Italian by another little Italian indy press: Atmosphere Libri.
“…beats its way slowly and deliciously through drizzling honey, buttered baking tins, quivering jellies and slabs of chocolate..”
Agnese describes a family life that beats to the tune of her prize-winning, pastry-chef father’s all-consuming dedication to his art. Everything revolves around him, a grumpy, exacting genius, and the elegant ground floor coffee house of the building in which he both works and lives. Family members and workers file before him in sequence, some are hard-working helpers, others his unrelenting critics. Like Filippo, his son, for instance, who he’s losing in an ever-narrower spiral of anger. The frustrated expectations of the father, betrayed by his children’s anxiousness to break free from his control, are projected onto newcomers to the household: foreigners, people whose shy, retiring presence in the building initially seems to crystallize the air of remoteness and lack of communication hanging over the others. But who ultimately turn out to be the renowned pastry-chef’s future.
This is a delicious story, both for the scrumptiously good idea of having a cream cake (the “chantilly cream puff” in the title) for a plot, and for the clean, crisp prose that quivers with natural vitality and unfrilly honesty. In a fearless voice and with the carefree flippancy of her teenage years, Agnes describes a family life played out to the sole tune of her prize-winning, pastry-chef father and his all-consuming dedication to his art.
The fluid writing style makes for a real page-turner and never detracts from the plot’s numerous twists – several of which will grab your heart strings – such as the profound melancholy Agnese feels for her father at one point. Very gently and very naturally, the narrative just seems to open up and entice the reader into the powerful flurries of experience that lie inside.
Erika Gallini was born in Udine in 1973. She lives in a small village in Friuli where she works as a civil engineer. Tutto panna chantilly is her first novel.