Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Voices in the Everyday

This image is in the Public Domain {{PD-USGov-NASA}}

Different voices carry stories of the everyday in Gianni Celati's Voices from the Plains. These collected vignettes of people living on the plains of the River Po in Northern Italy are among the few fiction writings translated into English of an author whom La Repubblica describes as "One of the great Italian storytellers." Celati is also well regarded as an academic, literary critic, and translator, with some of his work available in Spanish.

In Voices, commencing with interactions between ham radio operators in the initial tale "The island out in the Atlantic" through to the realities of the final "Young humans on the run," each vignette is unlike any other in the book. Each is told as if transcribed from what the author was told, with a sense of individual voice and personality emerging in the retelling.

Celati's talent for creating scenes and action especially shines as he unfolds the tales, such as:
And there, in fact, was a cottage and behind the cottage an old grey house with a very low doorway. In the cottage there lived a fair-haired man with his fair-haired wife (p. 11). 
One day she was busy tidying the orchard and saw, in the sky, a ball of fire looping upwards. Then, the ball did a zig-zag with two bangs and made a downward loop, ending up in a field beyond her house (p. 80).
He offers a clear yet quirky lens on the lives he presents, with a touch of the unusual, or eccentric, or surreal framing each story. He shares with us the humanity, humor, or devotions of the characters. In innovative ways, the tales are hauntingly appealing.

The book traverses such a variety of people and their "adventures" that a critic, Antonio Tabucchi remarked (admiringly) that "on finishing this book one is filled with a sense of disorientation and estrangement." Another commentator noted an undercurrent of melancholy. Many characters are loners, with meandering lives. Of course, whether the portrayal of "aloneness" indicates loneliness and whether actions are valued or fruitless to the characters will depend on individual interpretation.

Unambiguously, Celati's special talents in narration and visualization are engaging as he delivers a range of storytelling styles. He makes a collection well worth the read.


Gianni Celati [translated by Robert Lumley] (1989), Voices from the Plains, London: Serpent's Tail