Short Stories

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Zeus and Man. The Owl and the Nightingale. The Wild Doves. Five Wild Dogs. The Wolf and the Ass. The Lion and the Gnat.


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A Wizard and a Mouse. The Mice who Travelled. The Second Voyage. The First Voyage. Sindbad and His Seven Voyages. The Fisherman and The Jinni. One Thousand and One Nights. Hard Work and Laziness. A Cock and the Horses.

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The Swallow and the Crow. The Lion and the Frog. The Fox and the Wolf. The Birds and the Ocean. The Man and Apollo. The Mice and the Owl. A Beautiful Bride For Isaac. Trust in God. Though Boccaccio titled his great work The Decameron , he explicitly refers to the tales themselves as novelle. Siciliano investigates the difference between the terms novella and racconto in Italian, seemingly interchangeable terms, both to be differentiated from romanzo , the word for novel. A racconto aims to communicate a story, personally and purposefully, to a listener. Thus raconteur , a French word that has also become English, refers specifically to a human figure, a storyteller, especially a captivating one.

The spirit of the racconto implies a dynamic relation, with at least two people involved; though distinct from dialogue, it indicates a form, immediate and typically brief, of exchange. In modern Italian, the verb raccontare is commonly used, in conversation, when people want to narrate something casually but colorfully, imbuing this literary term with ongoing quotidian currency.

Fleeting by nature, short stories, in spite of their concision and concentration, are infinitely elastic, expansive, probing, elusive—suggesting that the genre itself is essentially unstable, hybrid, even subversive in nature. I agree. In some sense it is the novel, in Italy, that is the interloper, the imported genre.

The novel, according to Moravia, derives from reason, and is imbued with structure, elements that short stories routinely undermine and resist. To leaf through them is to glimpse the thrilling sweep of the ocean from above, as opposed to navigating the more manageable but partially uncharted bay I have demarcated. Every language is a walled entity. English is a particularly fortified one. To step outside the anglophone world is to grow aware of the near-total domination of the English language when it comes to what is being read and celebrated as literature today. It is a domination that few, at least on the English-speaking side of the border, stop to question.

I am aware that my orientation at the moment—to look outside English, and to put forth for consideration what is now overlooked even in Italy—separates me from the literary mainstream both in the Italian- and the English-language context. In Italy, I note the overwhelming number of English-language authors prominently displayed in bookshops, and reviewed, each week, in newspapers and magazines; the number of prizes and residencies and festivals designed to host and honor English-language authors in Italy.

I myself have been the grateful recipient of such invitations, prizes, and residencies. And yet the discrepancy is clear. The fact remains that Italian writers, for good and for ill, for well over a century now, have looked outside their own literature for inspiration, and the tradition of translation out of English, at least on behalf of Italian publishers, is critical, not peripheral, to the literary landscape.

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Of these forty stories, sixteen have not been translated into English until now, and nine have been retranslated intentionally for this anthology. The vast majority, I imagine, will be fresh discoveries for English readers. And of these forty authors, a great many have been ignored and thus practically forgotten in Italy as well. Most of the magazines in which they originally appeared no longer exist. There was a period, particularly after World War II, when small literary journals, many of them founded by the authors in this anthology, flourished in Italy.

Some were short-lived but editorially clamorous.

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Each represented a hope, a different direction, a new cultural climate or point of view. They put short stories at the forefront. Their presence corresponded to a period of extraordinary literary ferment, and their editors prided themselves on promoting new, innovative, heterodox voices. They were proof of how individually published short stories, free from the economic machinery of book publishing, are by definition autonomous texts: a source of resistance, a means for creative risk and experimentation.

Fortunately, there are still talented young writers in Italy who embrace the short form, and once in a while, in Italy as in other places, a short-story collection creeps on to the short list for a major literary prize. Another promising sign is Racconti Edizioni, a Roman publishing house founded in , dedicated exclusively to publishing short-story collections. Until recently, schools of creative writing were unheard of in Italy.

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Short Stories

They are beginning to grow in numbers, though they remain independent from academic institutions. What has happened in the United States and, to a lesser degree, also in Great Britain—the reign of the Master of Fine Arts and the calculated marriage between art and academy—has not yet been sanctioned in Italy, and as a result, most Italian writers still have, by and large, a different center of gravity, either as journalists or scholars or editors, or, in some cases, all of the above.

The separation between writers and publishers is less rigid in Italy, and the editorial milieu, more intimate, less corporate than its American counterpart, is an engrossing story in and of itself. Tracing its evolution and dynamics is fundamental to understanding how and why so many short stories were written in Italy in the course of the previous century, and in such a rich array of styles.

As I was nearing the completion of this project, Italy was in the process of electing a new government, with xenophobic parties gaining electoral sway. Neo-Fascist violence toward immigrants has been on the rise, and the government still denies birthright citizenship to Italians with foreign-born parents. Language is the substance of literature, but language also locks it up again, confining it to silence and obscurity. Translation, in the end, is the key. This volume, which honors so many writer-translators, is as much a tribute to the Italian short story as it is validation of the need—aesthetic, political, ethical—for translation itself.

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I am enormously grateful to the team that has worked to bring the works of these writers into English for the first time, or to retranslate stories with greater accuracy and intuition. In the process of editing their contributions I have deepened my own awareness and respect for what it means to transport literature from one language to another, and I have redoubled my commitment to doing so. Only works in translation can broaden the literary horizon, open doors, break down the wall. It is an arbitrary sequence, but it is also serendipitous that Elio Vittorini appears first. But this was no mere gathering of authors; it was a massive, collective translation enterprise, featuring contributions by some of the most important Italian writers of the time, including Alberto Moravia, Cesare Pavese, and the Nobel laureate poet Eugenio Montale.

The objective of Americana was to introduce iconic American voices to Italian readers. For America, too, was a fabulous projection in the minds of many Italians of that generation: a legendary place that stood for youth, rebellion, freedom, and the future. It passed the censors only after Vittorini removed his critical commentaries on the individual authors, and Emilio Cecchi, a critic in good graces with the Fascist government, wrote an introduction.

To leaf through the book today—it runs to over a thousand pages long—is to traverse a bridge that feels nothing short of revolutionary. Vittorini was my guiding light as I assembled this book. I followed his example in writing the brief author biographies—intended as partial sketches and not definitive renderings—that preface each story, and it is in homage to him and to that landmark work—to the spirit of saluting distant literary comrades, of looking beyond borders and of transforming the unknown into the familiar—that I offer the present contribution.

Jhumpa Lahiri received the Pulitzer Prize for her debut story collection, Interpreter of Maladies , which this year is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. Because of the waiting times between buses, it took her until about two in the afternoon to travel the hundred-odd miles. All that sitting, either on buses or in the depots, was not a thing she should have minded. Her daily work was not of the sitting-down kind. She was a chambermaid at the Comfort Inn. She scrubbed bathrooms and stripped and made beds and vacuumed rugs and wiped mirrors.

She liked the work—it occupied her thoughts to a certain extent and tired her out so that she could sleep at night.

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