Amara LakhousThe Italian novels of Algerian-born writer Amara Lakhous take the contemporary immigrant experience as a lens through which to interpret the world. Lakhous’ novels apply a light touch to the big questions: identity, language, relationships. For Lakhous, the displacement experienced by the immigrant, as well as by many people within their own countries, speaks directly to the heart of all literature: our relationship to the “Other.” This sense of estrangement, as well as the search for human connection, is evident in all Lakhous’ works, along with the array of misunderstandings, both comic and tragic, that often arise from cross-cultural encounters.

Born in Algeria in 1970, Lakhous attended an Arabic school and studied French before working as a radio journalist. After fleeing Algeria’s repressive political and cultural climate for Rome in 1995, he received a second degree in cultural anthropology from the University La Sapienza. Fueled by his passion for Italian culture — especially the cinema of commedia italiana — Lakhous began writing in his adopted language, seeking to create a new style that could “Arabicize” Italian and “Italianize” Arabic.

The resulting novels, all set in Italy, lend the humor of commedia italiana to Lakhous’ explorations of language, identity, and displacement, framing these questions within the structure of the giallo, or crime novel. Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a Piazza Vittorio (published in 2006 and translated into English in 2008 as Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio), takes a murder in a Roman apartment complex as a pretext to recount the diverse cultural perspectives of the victim’s neighbors. Divorzio all’islamica a viale Marconi (published in 2010 and translated into English in 2012 as Divorce Islamic Style), tells the story of Christian Mazzari; an Arabic-speaking Sicilian who goes undercover to infiltrate a terrorist group in Rome, he is soon distracted by the wife of one of his targets. Contesa per un maialino italianissimo a San Salvario (published in 2013 and translated into English as Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet, 2014) takes place just as Romania is preparing to enter the European Union; the novel explores a rumored war between Albanian and Romanian gangs in Turin while at the same time exposing the absurdities of the contemporary political and cultural landscape. Currently, Lakhous is at work on a new novel, again set in Turin.

Lakhous was the recipient of the prestigious Premio Flaiano in 2006, as well as Algeria’s Prix des libraires in 2008. He spoke with me from his home in Paris.

Meredith K. Ray: I’d like to begin with a general question. You’re an Algerian-born writer who chooses to write in Italian. What can you tell us about your journey from Algeria to Italy (you lived in Rome for sixteen years), and then to France, where you are living now?

Amara Lakhous: Well, let’s put it this way. I realize that in some ways I’m an unusual case, because so many writers — not just Algerian ones, but North African writers (Moroccan, Tunisian) — have had a relationship with France because of colonization. So they have a very strong relationship to France. If they have to go abroad, they go to France. If they have to write in a language that isn’t their native language, or their country’s official language, they write in French.

I decided, on the other hand, to make a completely different choice: to go to Italy and to write in Italian. And there were several reasons for this — first of all, I left Algeria at a very difficult time, in 1995, when I was working as a radio journalist. And, like many journalists and young writers, I had problems . . . and it was necessary for me to leave. I was able to get a visa for Italy because a dear friend of mine, an anthropologist, had invited me there and I was able to get a visa that that allowed me to leave Algeria. But this obviously does not explain why I stayed in Italy, instead of going on to France. But I am a little crazy, and I said to myself, it would be good to do something original.

I’ve always thought of art, of writing, as an act of creativity and originality. So I said to myself: I could go to France, where I already speak the language. I could write in French, like so many others have done — others who, quite honestly, have more opportunity and a greater ability than I do, because I did not attend a Francophone school. I went to an Arabic school. Even though I spoke some French, which was taught in grade school, at a certain point they decided to Arabicize everything. So everything — math, physics, history — was taught in Arabic. Obviously, this took away from the weight of French in Algeria. I think it was more a demagogical act than a cultural one . . . but that’s another story.

Anyway, I went to Italy and I thought it would be good to do something original, even though when I first arrived in 1995 I didn’t have this idea of writing in Italian yet. When I got to Italy my first goal was to learn to speak Italian — to learn the Italian language and to learn the Italian culture and society. Because — and this is another fundamental part of it — even before I went to Italy, I had a deep passion and a deep admiration for Italy’s culture, especially cinema. I had discovered it as an adolescent, when I used to go to a cinema in Algiers that showed the films of the great directors, and I was crazy about it. I used to go twice a week and I realized immediately that Italian cinema is something truly exceptional — especially Fellini. And when I got to Italy, one of my motivations in learning Italian — you always need something to motivate you to learn a language — it’s crazy, but really it was this: to be able to see Italian films that hadn’t been dubbed, to hear someone like [Vittorio] Gassman or Alberto Sordi acting in their own voice and language. And that was a great pleasure. I remember I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street, 1958), a film by [Mario] Monicelli with Gassman and [Marcello] Mastroianni. In the version I had seen in Algeria, which was dubbed in French, Gassman spoke a normal kind of French. But in the Italian, he stutters and stammers . . . it’s fantastic. All that gets lost in dubbing — the character gets lost. So, I had the chance to recover Gassman, to save him!

I had always known that Italian culture is an extraordinary thing. I knew this and had seen evidence of it and wanted to learn about it in more depth — that’s the first thing. The second thing was to follow a new path. I already spoke French, but I didn’t know Italian, so adding another language, learning about another society, one that had immediately transfixed me. I’m speaking of Rome, where I lived for sixteen years, an extraordinary city and the setting for two of my novels.

These are some of my motives for the decision to go to Italy, to study Italian, to stay in Italy, to become in some sense a citizen of Italian language — a citizen of Italian culture. I am an Italian citizen, in the sense that since 2008 I have had an Italian passport. But what I like most is this linguistic and cultural citizenship that I really worked hard for.

In any case, after that, the decision to write in Italian came about. Because as a writer, I was born in Algeria, in Arabic. I wrote my first novel in Algeria in 1993: Scontro di civiltà in un ascensore di Piazza San Vittorio. I wrote it in Arabic, and then I re-wrote it in Italian. So little by little, this maturity, this intimacy with Italian, led me to start writing in Italian. And now, I find myself here in Paris, writing the first draft of my next novel, in Italian. Me — an Algerian, a Berber — I’m here in Paris. I often go to libraries — they have beautiful libraries to work in. In fact, I say to my wife, “I’m going to the office,” and I go the library. And I sit there, and I think: someone who sees me — I’m Algerian, I’m a Berber, I’m in Paris, and I’m writing in Italian. Someone sitting next to me . . . they would never guess where I’m from.

This choice to write in Italian actually happened later, it didn’t happen right at the start.

This brings up something I wanted to ask you about, which is exactly that — the problem of language in your novels. It’s something a reader notes immediately, because language has such fundamental importance for your characters’ sense of identity and belonging. There’s a wonderful quote in Contesa per un maialino italianissimo a San Salvario (Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet) that reads:

“. . . non c’è una radice più forte della lingua . . . Ogni persona che lascia la propria terra è come un albero trapiantato altrove, guai a privarlo delle proprie radici.”

(“There’s no stronger root than language . . . Anyone who leaves his country is like a tree that has been transplanted somewhere else. No one had better try to deprive him of his roots.”)

Can you talk a bit more about the process of writing first in Arabic, then in Italian? 

I wrote the first version of Divorzio all’Islamica a viale Marconi (Divorce Islamic Style), which was published in 2010, in Italian (I work on multiple versions — for example, Clash of Civilizations . . . had about twenty versions). When I finished — as you know, in Arabic you write from right to left — I divided the file and made two tables: Italian text on the left and Arabic text on the right. I have a multi-language keyboard, so I can go from one language to the other. And I would look at the Italian text, and write in Arabic, and if I found something that seemed more convincing as an image in Italian, I would change it. So the two texts were born together, and published within a month of one another: the Arabic text was published in August and the Italian text in September. They’re twins.

That is really interesting. It seems like a unique way to work.

It’s an unusual case . . . I don’t think anyone else has done the same thing. You literary critics will have to confirm that. There are writers . . . I’m thinking of Kundera, and others who have written in several languages . . . but something like this — I don’t think so.

No, maybe not. Italo Svevo comes to mind, since he had so many linguistic influences and liked to play with question of identity and its expression in language, but this idea of actually creating the two versions at the same time is unusual.

They were born together. Up to the very end, I would change things, add things, I really did a comparison, and these texts were — I don’t know how to say it — they were loved, they were improved, and they were published with two different titles, two different covers.

What was the Arabic title?

Little Cairo.

For the neighborhood in which the novel is set (in Rome).


Would you say that they are the same novel, then? What impact does the language you write in have on the book itself?

This work really calls into question the whole concept of translation, in the sense that I am not a translator. I’m the author, and so the author can do as he likes. The translator can’t add or cut out characters, for example, or take out sections and add others, or add new characters, or change their names. The title, maybe — to find a better title — but really, what I do, more than translate [traducere], is I betray [tradire]. I betray the original text. I add some things, I take some things out. So it’s a creative act, an act of re-writing, not translation. So in the end, they are twin texts with the same mother, the same father — but maybe one is male and one female, one is tall, one is short — they aren’t identical. They’re not identical twins.

In fact, I wanted to ask you about the difference between seeing your books translated, and re-writing them yourself. I know your last novel is about to be published in English. How was it — after all that work you did, linguistically, knowing how important language is, how much creativity and flexibility there is in language — to entrust your book to a translator?

I made the choice to work in two languages, Arabic and Italian, and I made it my goal to “Arabicize” the Italian, and to “Italianize” the Arabic. That is, to bring Arabic into Italian — and really, not just Arabic, because my origins are Berber, which has a very rich language, my mother-tongue — so I put some Italian into my language. And French too, really. And when I write in Arabic, I put in my new language, which is Italian — so I Arabicize Italian and Italianize Arabic. My Arabic style is very unusual — many critics and reviewers have noticed it.

Really, you’re creating a new language.

I hope so. I’m following this path, and I hope it will lead somewhere. It’s already having an effect in the United States, where there’s a lot of interest, which is a great pleasure. It’s an unusual case. There aren’t really Arabic writers writing novels. I have friends who are writing short stories. But a writer who writes in two languages, like me, with a constant, clear literary program — maybe after me, there will be more.

What was it like to entrust your work to another person? Are you happy with the translation? 

Yes, of course. The interesting thing is that my novels have been translated in other languages, but only from the Italian versions. None from the Arabic. There’s only one case — because there’s a young man doing a doctoral thesis who wants to translate Clash of Civilizations into Berber. Because I speak Berber, but I don’t write it. Really, Berber is a language you speak, but you don’t write — there are various reasons for this. Obviously, there’s the political problem: because after the Algerian independence in ’62, we had the misfortune to have a stupid nationalism, and nationalism bases itself on having a single nature, a single religion, a single country — a dictatorship, really. It was forbidden to teach Berber in school. I speak it perfectly, but I don’t write it.

Is there a Berber literary tradition?

Only recently. A few people have started to write in Berber. The first novels came out three, four, five years ago. So I chose to work in Italian, but there are other languages — French, German, English — obviously I feel closer to French, and they ask me why I don’t write in French, too. And I answer that I’m already a linguistic polygamist, writing in two languages. It’s complicated to add a third one. Complicated in the sense that — sure, I could add it to the list, but I don’t want to waste any time. Writing in French . . . I don’t know. Maybe English some day, I could add English. So in French, I have the possibility . . . My translator, Elise Gruau, is really great. Right now she’s finishing Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet, it will come out in a few months. When she finishes, she gives it to me to read. I read it like a reader. I tell her my observations, if she has a question, she can always ask me. My English translator, Ann Goldstein, who is in New York, sometimes asks me a few things, sometimes nothing. Dispute over a Very Italian Piglet, she did all on her own. I have a lot of faith in her. The Japanese translation too, and the Spanish. Let’s just say, I’m really happy about it, because through translation I can reach more readers.

While you were talking, I was thinking that a scholar would really need to read the versions in Arabic as well. The Italian version is only half the story, so to speak.

There’s only a few who can do it. This Moroccan student is doing that exact thing. Comparing them — something interesting will come of it.

Let’s go back a minute to talk more generally about the major theme at the heart of all your novels: immigration. It’s clear that your own experience emigrating from Algeria had an effect on you and on your writing. Your novels are populated by immigrants to Italy from North Africa, but also by Italians (particularly southern Italians) who are like immigrants in their own country — they have to contend with similar kinds of obstacles and experiences. In some cases, like in Divorce Islamic Style, these two varieties of immigrant experience converge, as in the character of Christian. Can you talk about the centrality of this experience for you as a novelist, as well as the sense of — well, almost a kind of brotherhood — between Arab and Italian “immigrants” in Italy?

Thank you for the question, because it’s central. But for me, immigration is a way — a very, very important way — to read and interpret reality: the reality of the world, the reality of Italy. And here we have to distinguish between immigration as a sociological experience and immigration as a literary experience. What do I mean? There’s a whole vein of criticism that reads — not just in my novels, but in those of other who aren’t of Italian origin, but emigrated to Italy, like me — they read them in a sociological way. So they examine themes like racism, nostalgia, etc., and I would say that’s an interesting approach. However, what I try to place the most value on is not the sociological experience, but the literary experience, because if we look in more depth at the big themes of literature and history, the relationship to the Other is one of the most important themes. A love story, Romeo and Juliet, isn’t [a love story,] it’s a story about the Other. War and Peace — the theme of war is the relationship with the Other. And so, through immigration, I am able to tell the story of the relationship with the Other. Two people who meet, two cultures that meet, two religions that meet — how can they know each other? Why do they reject one another at some point?

You can see that in my novels there have been various steps along this path. Because Clash of Civilizations tells the story of a Roman neighborhood, Piazza Vittorio, where there are immigrants and also southern Italians. This choice did not happen by chance. There’s one who comes from Milan, professor Marini, and the Neapolitan concierge. That was a great idea, because in that novel, you can see that Italian society is already a multicultural society, even without counting the immigrants. If we leave out the immigrants for a moment, and look at the Italians themselves — you’ll see it’s a multicultural society. In fact, when people say that Italy is becoming a multicultural society thanks to the arrival of immigrants, I say: No. What country are you living in?

This is the point I started from, until getting to Divorce Islamic Style, where I bring in Italian immigration in Tunisia (in the character of Christian, who is born in Tunisia), the relationship between Sicily and Tunisia. And then I came to Dispute over a Very Italian Piglet, where I ended up somewhere I didn’t expect. I meant to tell the story of immigrants in Turin, and what do I end up doing? I tell the story of the immigration of southern Italians (who relocate to the north of Italy), and I end up in Romania. In the new novel, I take yet another step forward, because the new novel is set in 2008, again in Turin, with the same main character, and it talks about the Roma — the Gypsies. And what do I do? I end up finding out that the Roma came to Italy in the Middle Ages — the Middle Ages! So they are more Italian than many Italians!

I try to work on Italian memory. The key is immigration, but not “non-European Community immigration.” I think of the five million immigrants living in Italy today, whether they are Italian citizens, residents, or whatever. Through this presence, of today’s immigrants, I try to open a discussion of southern Italian immigration, which is a shameful thing, forgotten. They were Italians — white, Catholic — and they were discriminated against. I lived in Turin for two years — I went to Turin in order to write this novel, to create the main character, the one I’m using now, I don’t know if I’ll use him again in the future — but it was a way to talk about immigration in Italy from within Italy and from outside Italy. And that was my goal . . . immigration as a key, not just sociologically or anthropologically, but in literary terms. To tell the story of the relationship to the Other.

And in this literary experience, language is central. If I Arabicize Italian, and use all my own experience, I work on Italian dialects, too. In the kind of criticism that looks only at themes — racism, discrimination, etc. — and ignores the question of language, this is something that is really lacking. We need scholars and critics who study the works of writers like me, writers who come from other cultures and other languages — they absolutely must give more attention to language. Because literature is language. Literature is style. It’s not just content, because we can find content everywhere. There are sociologists and anthropologists who can do a great job of describing Italy. They have data, theories, studies, statistics. But a writer arrives at it through language and describes the society that is emerging through language.

I also wanted to talk for a minute about the fact that all your novels are, in some sense, constructed as mysteries or detective stories. There is always a crime — or if not a crime, a question — at their heart. And your novels are also comic, even though they deal with important problems. There is a really nice mix of the comic and the serious. You have spoken about wanting to create a giallo alla commedia nera, a “comic crime novel” or “a black humor” crime novel. Could you talk about your philosophy with respect to the crime novel and the place of humor within a form that is, in many senses, very fixed in its conventions? How do these things fit together, and why do you continue to utilize this structure?

Alongside language, this is another important part of my literary project. It was always my idea to mix two genres: the commedia (comedy) and the giallo (the crime novel). Obviously, commedia italiana derives from cinema — a big influence for me — and my novel Divorce Islamic Style (or Clash of Civilizations and Dispute over a Very Italian Piglet) is based on that. It’s a genre that hasn’t had much impact on literature. It has a lot of success in cinema in the 1950s and 1960s, then it’s done by the 1970s, creatively speaking. But there’s no corresponding literary school to speak of. This was something I wanted to change: to move the commedia italiana from film to literature. Because I think it’s possible — I say it in Clash of Civilizations, too, in the discussion between Amedeo and the young Dutch character, when they talk about Neorealism and commedia italiana. Really, commedia italiana comes from Neorealism — Neorealism is the mother. It tells the story of reality. But commedia italiana added this new element: to tell the story of reality but without this ideology. I’m thinking for example about the films of Dino Risi, like Una vita difficile (A Difficult Life, 1961), with Alberto Sordi, where you’re telling the story of workers, laborers, etc., and instead of using ideology, the party, the union, you tell a story with humor, with comedy, with leggerezza (lightness) — that’s a key word, one of [Italo] Calvino’s six categories (in Lezioni americane [Six Memos For the Next Millennium], 1988). I think commedia italiana is capable of telling not only the story of Algerian society but also Italian society. I’ll explain why.

In Algeria, I studied philosophy after high school for a reason: in order to have rational instruments to help me understand my society. I was born in an Algerian society — Berber, Arabic — and as I grew up, I realized that my society was full of contradictions. Full of contradictions. So I thought, only philosophy — the art of thinking, reflecting, etc. — can offer a possibility of understanding this society. So what happened? I studied for four years, and after four years I had a crisis because I realized that everything I had studied had no use whatsoever. Why? Because my society was an irrational society. Philosophy couldn’t explain it. When I came to Italy I found the same thing, because Italian society is full of contradictions.

Now, I hate to make anyone uncomfortable but . . . come on. [Former prime minister Silvio] Berlusconi — we’re allowed to make him uncomfortable! A phenomenon that cannot be explained rationally. A person who owns half the media, and the government owns the other half . . . ! I remember when he won in 2001, he was invited to talk with [Bruno] Vespa, a great journalist who has this political talk show Porta a Porta (actually, I use him in Dispute over a Very Italian Piglet [as a model] for Finestra sul cortile — it’s him). And Berlusconi shows up and Vespa asks him about conflict of interest: “You own television, banks, a soccer team.” [Vespa] said, “When the Consiglio di Ministri [Council of Ministers] decides to vote on these questions, which affect your interests, regulations, and so forth, what will you do?” You know what [Berlusconi] answered? He said, “We have an answer for that. When the Council of Ministers decide to talk about my affairs, I will resign from the Council of Ministers.” It’s a great answer! It’s extraordinary. He’s a comic personality of great effect.

In the new book I also begin with an event that really happened, that can’t be understood rationally. Only comedy can explain it. Giallo [crime writing] is a genre that has always fascinated me, because it manages to combine a million other genres. I don’t like passive literature, writers who recount their love stories, their disappointments. I say, a reader spends the money to buy your book — they go and buy your book, out of thousands — they spend all that time reading it, and you, the writer, what do you do? You ruin their day? There are certain books where you want to say, just go to a therapist and figure out your problem! I don’t like it.

For me, literature is a space for enjoying yourself. Leggerezza can also make you reflect. You can be delicate, sensitive. I try to remember this in using the giallo, which allows you to enter a dialogue with the reader. Although in this, I belong more to the school of [Leonardo] Sciascia than Agatha Christie or other crime writers. Because in Sciasicia’s novels, the criminal is never an individual, whereas in the classic crime novel, there’s an individual, an assassin. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that, in a classic crime novel, the criminal is defeated at the end, or killed. That doesn’t happen in Sciascia’s novels. There’s no single guilty person at the end. In my novels, I try not to give too much importance to who is guilty. What I mean is I think that the guilty party is always collective, not individual. In Clash of Civilizations, the main question isn’t who killed “The Gladiator,” but instead to tell stories about people’s lives.

In your use of the comic to recount things that are utterly incomprehensible, the absurdities of society, I also wonder if there is a link to [Luigi] Pirandello and his idea of the pazzo, the madman, as the only person able to really see society for what it is? 

Exactly. I mentioned Sciascia, you’ve just mentioned Pirandello. I’ll tell you, my place in Italian literature is among the Sicilian. I feel very grounded in Sicilian literature, and also in its themes. Also because Arab culture has been part of Sicily for centuries; there are Arab roots in Sicily. I feel very close to Pirandello, the question of humor, pazzia [madness], identity — multiple identities. I feel very close to a writer such as [Vitaliano] Brancati, who critiques society with a light touch, and obviously Sciascia.

It’s quite interesting, because when you think of Italian giallisti, many of them are Sicilian, or set their books in Sicily. I also see a bit of Boccaccio in some of your works, for example in the comic-tragic love triangle in Divorce Islamic Style.

Yes, that true. That’s a great reference. Let’s just say I’m in good company.

I was re-reading your preface to The Bug and the Pirate, which is really wonderful, because it’s so concise and yet so dense with ideas. There, you quote Calvino in saying that “a debut novel always contains the writer’s entire plan, everything that will come after, [his] creative genesis [. . . ].” How has this been true for you?

Certainly, in this desire to recount reality, but with depth. For example, Divorce Islamic Style is, in essence, my doctoral thesis. I wanted to write about Arab Muslim immigration in Italy. I defended it and instead of publishing my thesis, it became the basis for my novel. I’ve always thought of the novel as the result of a long period of study. I think it would be great, in the future, to add bibliographies to novels, like in theses. I could really add one. You can see there’s a lot of bibliographical references in my novels. And they’re important for understanding them. So there’s this desire to describe reality with seriousness and depth. Before writing, I read. I do research, I document things. That’s the first thing.

Second is the work I’ve done with language. There’s a Tunisian critic who wrote a great essay on language in the Arabic version of The Bug and the Pirate. Because I tried to refer there to [Carlo Emilio] Gadda, to classical Arabic, dialect, proverbs, French — I created a language. Leaving in 1995, that project was transformed. I went to Italy. I’m not nostalgic. I think of creativity as a step forward, an exploration, and things can be found again. It’s not impossible that I might go back to Algeria someday. But it was a great experience.

The third thing is leggerezza. Because in The Bug and the Pirate, there are parts that really are light. A friend of mine who read said it made him laugh and cry. They say the same thing about Divorce Islamic Style, Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet. It’s commedia italiana, it makes you laugh and cry at the same time. You’re never indifferent. And that’s what literature does. It never leaves you indifferent. If you read a beautiful book or see a great film, those characters and places won’t leave you easily. When you’re dreaming, when you’re sleeping, when you’re talking with friends — the world is never the same as it was before. Literature, art, it never leaves you empty-handed. It always gives you something. It gives you new eyes, a new perspective that changes you.

When will the new book be completed?

I’m working on it now and it will be out in September and translated into English after a few months. Also, since something that perhaps interests us both is the theme of the female voice, in the new book, there are dual narrators: a woman and a man. In Clash of Civilizations, that was where I first put myself in the shoes of a woman, because I was interested in a woman’s perspective on the world — because we live in a world narrated by men.

There’s also a strong female voice in Divorce Islamic Style, which I really enjoyed. Do you have a favorite novel? Or are they like your children — you can’t choose?

My wife says Divorce Islamic Style. Also, this latest one about the Roma is really interesting.

Do you have a title for it yet?

It’s temporary. But I hope they’ll use La splendida zingarata della verginella di via Ornea. It’s a true story, from a few years ago, where two Roma were accused by a fifteen-year old girl of rape, and after a big hubbub — their camp was burned down — after two days, the girl changed her story. She had gotten pregnant by her boyfriend and her family was very Catholic . . . and they sent her to the gynecologist every two months to make sure she was a virgin. She was scared, and invented this story and said it was Roma. In my novel they start calling her the virgin of Via Ornea, [Via Ornea is a street in San Salvario in Turin,] and then later, the verginella — to mean someone who is cunning. And zingarata is a joke. I don’t know if you remember Amici miei [My Friends, 1975] — they used the word zingarata to mean a joke, and it comes from zingaro [“gypsy”], so I use it. But it’s a temporary title.

It’s true that you always use very long, descriptive titles. They tell you a lot about the novel.

There are also epigraphs, which are never casual. There are two excerpts from articles from the 1950s in Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet that talk about southern Italian immigration. In this [latest] novel, I put an excerpt from an article published in the New York Times in 1882 that talks about Italian immigrants [to the United States] — they’re dirty, they let their children run in the streets . . .if you take out Italian and substitute Roma, its the same thing.

I work on memory, in this sense. The cycle that repeats, unfortunately.


This interview was conducted in Italian and translated by the author.
Meredith K. Ray is Associate Professor of Italian and Women’s Studies at the University of Delaware and the author of Writing Gender in Women’s Letter Collections of the Italian Renaissance (Toronto, 2009), winner of an American Association for Italian Studies Best Book Prize in 2009. She teaches courses on early modern literature and culture and on contemporary detective fiction, and is currently working on a book about women and science in Renaissance Italy.

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