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I’ve always loved to read, and feel lost without a good book around. In fact I’m reading a great one right now!
For the last few years I’ve committed myself to reading in Italian, but it can be tough finding just the right books in your second language. Written Italian tends to be a very different proposition from everyday spoken Italian, and it’s easy to find yourself bogged down in convoluted phrases that eventually kill the pure pleasure of losing yourself in a great story.
Of course, it’s not a bad thing to skip the occasional word, we often do that in our mother tongue without thinking much about it. But when you have to reread a paragraph three times in order to fully understand it … well perhaps it’s time to stop torturing yourself and find something easier to read.
One Italian author who hits just the right spot for me is Niccolò Ammaniti. Ammaniti has the wonderful ability of being able to transform ordinary people and simple events in tragicomic epics. In fact, the book which I’m currently reading, Come Dio Comanda, brings to mind some favourite authors from my youth who shared this ability, such as Hemingway, Steinbeck, and J.D. Salinger.
One of the main protagonists of Come Dio Comanda is the ferocious rainstorm which castigates the bleak plain upon which events unfold. In the following extract, Ammaniti’s masterful wordplay brings both storm and inanimate objects to life. His humorous use of the ‘si impersonale’ in the final paragraph, together with a wry observation of the importance of football in Italian culture, made me laugh out loud, and reread it a couple of times, not out of confusion, but for the sheer pleasure of reading.
Extract from Come Dio Comanda (As God Commands, a.k.a. The Crossroads) by Niccolò Ammaniti.
La danza del terrore cominciò alle ventidue e trentasei, quando un fronte temporalesco, incagliato da giorni tra le cime delle montagne, fu liberato da una corrente siberiana che lo spinse verso meridione.
La mezza luna che pendeva al centro di un cielo terso e ricamato di stelle in meno di dieci minuti fu imbavagliata da una coltre di nuvole scure e basse.
Il buio calò di colpo sulla pianura.
Alle ventidue e quarantotto fragori di tuoni, saette e sbuffi di vento aprirono i balli di una lunga notte di tempesta.
Poi cominciò a piovere e non smise più.
Sarebbero bastati un paio di gradi in meno e avrebbe nevicato e forse il resto di questa storia sarebbe andato diversamente.
Le strade si svuotarono. Le imposte si serrarono. I termostati si regolarono. I camini si accesero. Le parabole, sui tetti, presero a scricchiolare e il derby Milan-Inter cominciò a scomporsi in quadratoni e la gente imbestialita si attaccò ai telefoni.
The dance of terror began at twenty two thirty six, when a storm front, stranded for days amongst the mountain peaks, was set free by a current of Siberian air which pushed it southwards.
The half moon that hung at the centre of a clear sky embroidered with stars was, in less than ten minutes, wreathed in a blanket of low dark clouds.
Darkness suddenly fell upon the plain.
At twenty two forty eight rumbling thunder, lightning and gusts of wind opened a long stormy night.
Then it began to rain and didn’t stop.
A couple of degrees less and it would have snowed, and perhaps the rest of this story would have gone differently.
The roads emptied. The shutters shut. The thermostats regulated themselves. The fires lit. The satellite dishes, on the roofs, began creaking and the Milan-Inter football match began to break up into large squares, and the enraged people got on their phones.