April 20, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C
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Bios & Memoirs


The Day of the Owl

Rumors of Italian government complicity with the Mafia are age-old, but Sciascia pulled no punches.

Emilio's Carnival (Senilità)

Italo Svevo, born Aron Hector Schmitz, time and again presaged the modern curve.

The Baron in the Trees

Italo Calvino's gift was an adamant refusal to see the planet conventionally.

Little Misunderstandings of No Importance

The late Antonio Tabucchi always wanted it both ways: real and surreal.

That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana

In English, "That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana" is an impossible novel — which makes it necessary.

Zeno's Conscience

Italo Svevo's remarkable Zeno Cosini has the pedigree of a 21st-century neurotic.


Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler, and the Power of a Dynasty

Jennifer Clark's careful accounting of Fiat's ups and downs is essential Italy reading.

Street Art Stories – Roma

Tracking Rome street art is a noble cause, but not when words get in the way.

Zero, Zero, Zero

Roberto Saviano's cluttered new book plumbs the depths of cocaine trafficking.

Naples '44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth

Little written about World War II and southern Italy rivals Lewis' memoir.

The Siren
By Dino Buzzati, translated from the Italian by Lawrence Venuti
North Point Press, 1984. 147 pages

In Buzzati's best work, the magical and the mundane flirt constantly, as if seeking to bed down. The union, when it happens, churns up a host of vaguely unsettling stories that amuse, tease and terrify, sometimes all three. "The Time Machine" puts forward the city of Diacosia, where a mysterious device parses time and guarantees its slowed-down residents a longer life - until someone pulls the plug. "The Gnawing Worm" yields Andrea, who meets long-lost college friend Egidio only to see the latter burrow into his life, eventually moving in — if only Andrea ever remembered ever having met his so-called friend. In "The Plague," a clever allegory about authority and subversion, an otherwise bustling city is gradually infected by a wheezing plague that sickens and kills its … cars ("Oh, where were the festive klaxon and thundering of better days?"). "Barnabo of the Mountains," the longest and oldest of the stories (1934), tugs at themes made famous by Buzzati's later "The Tartar Steppe," with this one a tale of Alpine troops at war with ghostly bandits as recounted by an omniscient narrator with a murky agenda.

What most distinguished journalist Buzzati (1906-1972) was his ability to take the surrealism and folklore prodded by likes of Borges and Calvino and invest it with sufficient news desk credibility to put suspended disbelief at risk. He's like a farmer out early to harvest night terrors dreamed up by Futurists — making a case for a landscape composed only of greater and lesser unknowns. For Buzzati, there is nothing so modern it can't be undone by superstition, and no human so skilled as to elude his own personal Dark Ages, which is where comparisons to Kafka are apt.

Reviewed by Book Staff
Day and Boarding International High School in the Heart of Rome

Everything you need to know about visiting or moving to Tuscany, Italy.