On the last day of the Spring term, six Year 12 Italian A level students went to the Oxford Literary Festival with Mrs Stewart and Ms Jennings to hear an interview with Alessandro D’Avenia.
Alessandro D’Avenia is a best-selling Italian author from Palermo, Sicily, also a secondary school teacher in Milan. His first book, Bianca come il latte, rossa come il sangue (White as milk, red as blood), has been translated into 23 different languages and made into a film. At the festival he was presenting his third book, Ciò che inferno non è, which has recently been published in an English translation, What hell is not.
The author was interviewed by Oxford lecturer and tutor at Keble College, Teresa Franco. Alessandro began by reading a passage in Italian and then in English, choosing to focus on the moment when his RE teacher and local priest, Don Pino Puglisi, lay dying in the road after being shot by the Mafia. Alessandro works through the five regrets most people have when they die. Exceptionally, Don Pino had none of these regrets. He died with a smile on his face and even compassion for his attackers. He understood the community, Brancaccio, in Sicily, where they grew up. He understood the “hell” of growing up in the stranglehold of the Mafia. He had devoted everything to loving the children and their families there in an attempt to show them a different way of living, or “what hell is not”. Alessandro was drawn into the community when Don Pino invited him, then a 17-year old boy, to come and lend a hand in running activities for the children during his summer holiday. What hell is not is Alessandro’s portrayal of his own story and his encounters with Don Pino. The inspirational teacher and priest is the reason Alessandro himself became a teacher.
Throughout the interview our students had the excellent side-benefit of listening to the beautiful music of the Italian language being spoken, testing their own comprehension and then listening to the translation given by the interpreters. It was a fascinating insight into this linguistic skill and process.
The content of the reading and discussion was very moving and thought-provoking. Our Head Girl, Grace Bacon, had already read the English translation before attending. She said “I haven’t been this engrossed in a book in a long time!” and is now reading the original in Italian. Other students bought the book following the interview, and were treated to a personal book-signing and chat with our new favourite Italian author!
Reasons for Alessandro D’Avenia’s success include the real-life experiences and questions he addresses in his books, classic and classical themes and stories he weaves into his work, and his heart for young people. Indeed his first three books all focus on a (different) teenage main character, navigating relatable personal issues in their secondary school years. These first three books are: Bianca come il latte, rossa come il sangue (available in an English translation entitled: White as silence, red as song ), Cose che nessuno sa (Things nobody knows) and Ciò che inferno non è (What hell is not). They are all available from The Italian Bookshop or Amazon, and I would wholeheartedly recommend each, whether or not you are studying Italian!
There will be some adult readers who have studied Italian, perhaps with Enrica Loi, and I know she would give her recommendation also. We discussed the publication of this third book and the town of Palermo, Sicily, where it is set, when she was still working at Presdales. You will also enjoy using your Italian to read the column Alessandro D’Avenia writes every Monday for the Corriere della Sera. Find it online directly, or via my weekly retweet if you follow my Italian Twitter account, @presdaliani.
So much to enjoy with la dolce lingua!