A photo I took in Florence many years ago.
Those of us who’ve visited Italy have very fond memories of our sojourns there. We also have fond memories of various novels by Italian authors, and by non-Italian authors who set some of their books in Italy.
I’m currently reading Irving Stone’s terrific biographical novel The Agony and the Ecstasy, which stars not only the brilliant sculptor/artist Michelangelo but also the vividly depicted city of Florence. While readers know from the start that Michelangelo is destined for greatness, the 1961 novel is still fascinating and suspenseful as we see his path to creative mastery, learn about his personality, sympathize with his setbacks, etc. One can tell that the American author spent a lot of time in Italy researching the book before writing it.
Now let’s turn to some excellent Italian writers. Among those I’ve read are Elsa Morante, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, and Elena Ferrante.
Morante’s History is a gripping tale of a mostly ill-fated family — living in Rome during World War II — that includes the beleaguered Ida and her very charismatic young son Useppe.
Lampedusa’s posthumously published novel The Leopard — about the aristocracy’s decline in 19th-century Italy and more — is a book with prose worthy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Eco’s The Name of the Rose is a mesmerizing murder mystery set in a 14th-century monastery. But another Eco novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, is a hard-to-read book that gave me a headache.
Calvino? I’ve read his quirky Marcovaldo, starring an at-times bumbling dreamer. It’s one of those novels-comprised-of-interconnected-short-stories a la Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.
I’ve also tried one Elena Ferrante novel — her interesting The Lost Daughter, made into a 2021 film.
Then there’s of course Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century Divine Comedy. I hope to read that epic poem one of these days.
Back to non-Italian writers…
American/British novelist Henry James placed some of his work in Italy — including the intriguing The Aspern Papers (Venice) and the so-so Daisy Miller (Rome).
French author Stendhal featured an Italian nobleman in The Charterhouse of Parma.
English writer Anthony Burgess’ The Kingdom of the Wicked includes the volcanic disaster that befell Pompeii.
American author Martin Cruz Smith, known for Gorky Park and its sequels, left his Russian milieu at times to write stand-alone novels such as The Girl from Venice.
Speaking of Italy’s beautiful city of canals — a place I’ve been fortunate to visit twice — there’s also Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, the only other work named in this post I haven’t read yet.
Any authors and literary works you’d like to mention that fit this theme?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about a rent control agreement, a major redevelopment project, and the possible reopening of a century-old movie theater — is here.