Hisham Matar, The Country of Men (Einaudi)
Hisham Matar’s novel, In The Country of Men, is told through the stupefied and suffering eyes of a nine-year-old child, living one of the tragic stories in Gaddafi’s Libya. His life in the shadow of the dictator’s regime has a reality resembling the prophetic nightmares of Kafka. Born in New York in 1970, the son of a Libyan diplomat who became involved in a dissident movement and subsequently disappeared, Matar lived in exile from 1979, first in Cairo and then in London. He writes in English, trying to change through narrative invention the unlucky destiny of his parents and his country. The subject of this already mature and skilful first novel, the destruction that the regime perpetrates against its opponents: arresting them, humiliating and torturing them before eliminating them. The same kind of events were analyzed by Primo Levi in In a country of informers and spies, where an omnipotent political police rules, the walls have ears and the moral degradation practised by the regime spreads like a contagion pushing its victims into the abyss. As in Auschwitz, it is not enough to be victims to be on the right side. The universe described by Matar is not a world divided into good and evil, but has a perverse and fragile ethical complexity, scrutinized without fear by the author, with a firm hand and the heart of a poet. In The Country Of Men is not to be read as a document or a testimony, but as real literature, capable of transcending the limitations of time and space to assume universal value, capable of charting unknown, uncomfortable territories of human pain and truths.
Magda Szabo’s Pilátus (La Ballata di Iza - Einaudi)
Daniel Kehlmann, Measuring the World (Feltrinelli)
Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann is an exhilarating novel in which philosophy and history, science and literature meet in a refined interplay of fiction and reality. Two great figures who lived between the 18th and 19th centuries, the geographer and scientist Alexander von Humblodt and the great mathematician C.F. Gauss, are the heroes of the novel. They are engaged in a sublime enterprise: measuring the world. One travels through the South American forests, an avid observer of enigmatic realities. The other one, lost among numbers and formulas in the small world of Gottingen, is intent on revolutionary discovery: the curvature of space. With an affable style and sense of humour Kehlmann reconstructs the encounter of those two geniuses during the Congress of Science that took place in 1828 in Berlin. This is the point of departure for the radiography of a time charged with expectations and hopes with reality changing in a bitter delusion. Scientific grandeur and political misery—almost emblems of an eternal clash between creativity and life—are interwoven with the destiny of our protagonists. With the post-Napoleonic era in the background, the novel follows the daily life of two slightly clumsy and bizarre masters, who are open to the infinite possibilities of the mind but overwhelmed by the narrowness of life. With irreverent but affectionate participation, and an irresistible lively narration, Kehlmann has written a comedy which creates an explosion between the sublime and the banal, between the limits of human enterprise and the unlimited ardour of the mind. Though concerned with the past, Measuring the World is a book for today
Marisha Pessl, The Theory and Practice of Everything (Bompiani)
Mixing irony, literary ambition and talent, the young Marisha Pessl has written a debut novel that is both an intellectual thriller and a story that reflects the vulnerability of adolescence. What is most striking about The Theory and Practice of Everything is the author’s ability to move between various narrative levels. She pays homage to Nabokov with her many references to Lolita (the story of a middle-aged professor crossing America by car in the company of a young girl, an adventure that has in its background the tragic death of a woman) and while stirring a brew of brilliant, irreverent prose. The novel’s action is told through the voice of a girl, who though slightly naive, has been trained in philosophical, literary and political debate acquired during many hours passed in the car with her intellectually demanding father, while crossing American highways. These travellers have the character of fugitives, and end up in a provincial town where making light on a series of crimes coincides with the coming of age of our heroine. Writing The Theory and Practice of Everything, Marisha Pessl also wanted to demonstrate that the books we read have a profound influence on our life and on the choices we make. The fact that she succeeds in illuminating that truth with humor and lightness is another quality of her book that stands to be acknowledged.
Zadie Smith, On Beauty (Mondadori)
On Beauty by Zadie Smith is an intelligent interrogative novel dwelling on the meanings of multiculturalism and on the possibility of the survival of art and literature in the present world. The genre chosen by the author is the academic novel built on the model established in the 1950s by the elegant Angus Wilson, then revisited in the 1980s by the less elegant David Lodge. From this genre Zadie Smith draws and develops with originality the topic of the conflict between academics—here Howard Belsey, the WASP protagonist, and Monty Kipps, champion of Caribbean conservatism—both of them scholars of Rembrandt in the prestigious, imaginary Wellington College on the East Coast of the United States. Prisoners and rulers of a separate world, proud and autocratic, the two heroes give life to a situation that is spontaneous and autoironic, in which the private and the pressing questions about identity and race are masterfully mixed. Always in the background is Smith’s model, Edward Morgan Foster’s Howard’s End. Throughout On Beauty there is a continuous, vigilant inspiration and a great delicacy in representing the most difficult aspects of the human psyche.