My Grazia Deledda – the complete article
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 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.
Grazia Deledda has been buried and erased because she preserved, well-written, the relics of a millenarian culture, described the results of our culture slaughtered by colonialism, and spoke about our lost history, forgotten in the Italian textbooks, and especially our remaining identity.
Yes, Juan, if you want an answer about the due, usual question: what is this book about? What is Grazia Deledda’s work about? The answer is simple: Grazia Deledda’s work is about our identity, our remaining identity after two hundred years of strict, greedy and merciless colonialism.
Quoting my book in the pipeline, also at the beginning of the twentieth century, after so many campaigns against a decimated population, “The Barbagia Code had to be erased at any cost, and the Sardinian culture had to be confined to a museum, confused with a vase, a jewel and a costume. And Barbagia’s people had to stop believing that they held their destiny in their hands, stop facing life with boldness, and holding their heads up.
So, also that provincial Grazia Deledda, that unlikely writer unknown in Italy and in the snobbish literary salons of Rome, the winner of the most prestigious award in the world, the Nobel prize, who came from Nuoro, from Nuoro! Grazia Deledda too had to be confined in a sort of cabinet, in a closed yard and in a distant tomb, because her power, her messages could not be allowed to represent Barbagia’s culture. She could not be a flag but only an ethnic abnormality.”
And Sardinian students were not allowed to deal with dangerous deviations. The oppressive years, you know, were those under Spanish or Austrian rule (Manzoni again), certainly not under the enlightened generosity of the Piedmontese.
So, who knows Grazia Deledda? Who knows Nuoro, Juan?
Am I surprising you? I don’t think so. You have already read my pieces about “The King of Tavolara,” in which I widely spoke about the Savoy dynasty, this historical curse on Sardinia and Italy too, so you understand my points very well. We are two Mediterranean animals with our sensibility and susceptibility, and we both know that the Mediterranean Basin, the cradle of civilization, has also been (and it still is) an incredible laboratory for all sort of fights, massacres and prevarications. There is so much underground tension, so many historical chains and religious knots, and such huge emotional involvement, that it is inevitable that sometimes violence explodes, inexorable and blind. So, it isn’t surprising to discover a brutal colonization, not in the Far East or in Africa, but in the heart of Western civilization, in Italy, and imposed by the Piedmontese over a prostrated country, Sardinia, scientifically cancelling any trace of the local culture.
It is enough to make us take our head off the sand and study our history with attention.
You see, for the extra-European people especially—many of my colleagues, for example—Sardinia is known, when it is known, only as a tourist destination, gifted by splendid beaches and the sea. Costa Smeralda, Alghero, Villasimius, Castelsardo, and so on, are wonderful picture postcards. But almost nobody has knowledge of the inner provinces and their past. The only tool you have to understand and to enter this world is to read the collection of Grazia Deledda’s books, then Salvatore Satta’s Il Giorno del Giudizio, which is an absolute masterpiece, and other great contemporary writers. With difficulty and laboriously, you could reconstruct a magical and dramatic past, and understand Barbagia, this secluded region, and its people. With difficulty and laboriously, I repeat, because it is necessary to dig and to remove tons of earth and dust, and, more importantly, thousands of pages of manipulation, hypocrisy, and cowardice.
Grazia Deledda’s greatness is this: she reconstructed a world and described our identity, both the best and the worst of what we could save, without manipulation, hypocrisy, or cowardice. She had a sort of ethnic mission and I think that the Nobel committee recognized that, her incredible ability to be a part of this world, passionate, achingly affectionate, and, at the same time, an objective “reporter” of the human consequences of an historical crime. Honestly, humbly.
Her greatness stems from the entirety of her novels, a mosaic of histories that composes a painful, highly dramatic picture. Something that D. H. Lawrence didn’t understand, for example, because he didn’t know the framework, our history, our background, and even though he was an extraordinary writer, for sure, with a genial sensibility, he was still historically superficial, ignorantly racist, and eventually envious of her. Yes, a woman from the middle of nowhere (by the way, a land with four thousand years of civilisation), who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature! Recognition he never had.
I’ll come back to D. H. Lawrence in following articles, of course. But many other authors and critics, still today, speak about her technique, her innovativeness (they are points that I wouldn’t define pivotal in her pieces) without anchoring her work to our history, to the Sardinian conditions at the end of the nineteenth century, the military expeditions against the population, the economical defeat due to Umberto I’s politics, the dreadful wound of emigration.
Instead of this historical anchor points, sometimes I find parallels drawn between her and Manzoni (again? It seems that as Manzoni invented the Italian novel, so Grazia Deledda invented the Sardinian novel. So two worlds so different from any point of view, from any perspective, one set on the Moon and the other on Saturn, have an unlikely, common thread: form), or Verga, or various other authors. Inevitably, Grazia Deledda is always ‘under’ or ‘beside’ as Sardinia is.
No, Juan, as you can understand, my Grazia Deledda isn’t about technique, craft, or aestheticism. She is my blood, my genes, and my feelings. She is the Sardinia that you can breathe here, sitting at the Laconi Bar, and looking at this world so immutable, definitive, and still like a murdered body, laying down on a flat stone.
PS, only for the fools: I’m not advocating separatism or dreaming of a sort of revenge. I’m only retracing the truth of my identity.
The facts speak.
They are stubborn.