My Grazia Deledda – part 1
I have to say I’m an orphan of Grazia Deledda, dear Juan. When I was born, in Nuoro, the town that give birth to her, she was already dead, well before. Yes, Grazia Deledda was born in 1871, won the Nobel prize in 1926, and died in 1936, but what I mean is that when I went to school, in the 50s, and started understanding who we were, our history, geography, you know, and the first basis of literature, she had been completely forgotten, buried. Oh, sure, there was her house in the oldest quarter of Nuoro, and there was her cold, pompous tomb in the humble and thoughtful Chiesa della Solitudine. A dark granite tomb as massive and distant as the graves of the rich families were, in the grey cemetery on the hill. And, sometimes, in the 60s, there were some literary conferences on various authors and movements—I remember one about Existentialism and definitely another about Manzoni—in which Grazia Deledda would be mentioned in a debate thanks only to an indirect and accidental circumstance. The state curricula, the curricula of the Ministero Italiano della Pubblica Istruzione, to be precise, didn’t include Grazia Deledda. We had a deep knowledge of the Inferno, by Dante Alighieri, and especially boring overdoses of Manzoni, but never, either in the middle or high school, read a page, a single phrase of our fellow citizen.
“Canne al Vento” was a restaurant, if I remember, or a pizzeria in the new quarter of Istiritta.
Grazia Deledda was dead, and totally erased.
So, when you, Juan, criticized my piece about the English version of “Canne al Vento,” one of her best novels, saying—rightly—that first I had to speak about my Grazia Deledda; then I should express my literary criticism; and only at the end could I discuss the crimes of her translations, my first feeling was of one of a profound absence, of not having had enough of her, like an orphan. Grazia Deledda grew on me slowly, during the past decades, as an existential need; it is true. The more I understood I was Sardinian, Nuorese—even though I was far in the world— the quicker, the more intense I felt the necessity to know her and her work. To understand my roots and identity. But it was a consciousness that I acquired with maturity, so strong had been the will, the work of her cancellation in the past, and in my youth too.
From history, also from our geography, Juan. The main street of Nuoro was (is) Corso Garibaldi, which is not by chance. Grazia Deledda Street was and is still today an anonymous, narrow alley. Leave Grazia Deledda in her wild landscape, but do not let her enter the town, please, much less the schools, anthologies and conferences.
Writing in English and to an international audience, I feel the necessity to localize my speech—not everybody knows Sardinia and Barbagia—otherwise I think it would be difficult to understand my points. And here is the introduction from one of my books, which is in the pipeline, a funny yet serious one:
“We have to zoom in on the ‘crime scene:’ southern Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, Italy. On the west of the Italian peninsula, under the French island Corsica there is a bigger island, Sardinia. It is hidden, always ‘under’ or ‘beside’, and it is not as famous as Sicily because we were not able to develop the mafia in our past. We were too individualist, what a pity, and thus we renounced the spotlights and the benefits of the international criminal stage.
Now focus on the central area of Sardinia, on the most internal and secluded region, Barbagia, which is a land forgotten by the gods (starting with the Phoenician gods, then the Roman gods and continuing to the modern ones, the tourists) and cursed with mountains and gorges and remoteness. The chief town of this area is Nuoro, a place with a brave history, a disastrous present and a certain future as a ghost village.
The main street of Nuoro was Corso Garibaldi, so that each day we would be reminded of the country, Italy, that destroyed our own, and praise the vain hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, a freemason, and a man so war-loving that he trusted the Italian king and his band of greedy predators instead of leading the colonized regions in a fair independence war.”
So, following this zoom, we are now in Nuoro, Juan, sitting at the Laconi Bar, early in the morning, sipping a coffee. The breeze is gentle; the air clear. Corso Garibaldi is quite empty, shadowy; the granite flat stones of the pavement still cold. You start reading the introduction of Grazia Deledda’s Reeds in the Wind, and soon you find some hints about the distance between Grazia Deledda and her town and its population. They are common; don’t mind. There is a strange suggestion, I agree, as if the guilt of her deep, definitive burial were Nuoro’s. Nuoro denied her need to write, her novels and characters, objected to her fame, and finally erased her from history.
Even in recent reviews, I’ve read this kind of comment.
What a mistake, what a manipulation.
Nuorese people are full of defects, I know, even though this is not the place to enumerate them—I haven’t enough room for that, for sure. However, believe me, Juan, it is beyond our evil ability to produce the incredible result of an historical cancellation of a Nobel Prize winner, of her dozens of books and accounts and articles, of a world that she re-created in a structured, exemplary way.
Nuoro cannot possibly modify the state curricula and the textbooks of our liceo, or to name our historical Via Majore after a Sardinian woman. Can you imagine it? We could choose between Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Garibaldi, like hundreds of towns in the South of Italy; that was all. And we were lucky that we had the Statua del Redentore. His benediction from on high prevented the Italian government forcing upon us a horrible statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy (so, why II and not I?) or one of Giuseppe Garibaldi again, which afflict many squares in Italy.
And we only had to learn the Italian authors and the Italian version of history, in which the Risorgimento was a widespread movement of people, wanted and dreamt by the people, and the Italian unification a happy end. So we knew everything about “The Betrothed,” and Renzo and Lucia, so unlovable, Fra Cristoforo and Don Rodrigo, the plague of Milan, the Como Lake, etc. Don Abbondio—in our self-centred culture—was the best character of the worldwide literature, the most incisive. Ah, that image of the earthenware pot…!
On the contrary, we knew nothing about Sardinian writers or artists, or Grazia Deledda’s prize, books, and characters.
To be continued.