Tommaso has escaped discovery for thirty years but a young private investigator, Will, has tracked him down. Tommaso asks him to pretend never to have found him. To persuade Will, Tommaso recounts the story of his life and his great love. In the process, he comes to recognise his true role in the events which unfolded, and the legacy of unresolved grief. Now he’s being presented with a second chance – but is he ready to pay the price it exacts? That Summer In Puglia is a tale of love, loss, the perils of self-deception and the power of compassion. Puglia offers an ideal setting: its layers of history are integral to the story, itself an excavation of a man’s past; Tommaso’s increasingly vivid memories of its sensuous colours, aromas and tastes, and of how it felt to love and be loved, eventually transform the discomforting tone with…
In April, the European Literature Network published The Baltics Riveter, a compendium of writing about contemporary fiction from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Publication coincided with this year’s country focus on the Baltics at London Book Fair, where the magazine was widely distributed and enthusiastically received. It contains historical notes, reviews and extracts of some very exciting literature.
The Baltics Riveter is now available also in digital form here. This is the fourth of the European Literature Network’s Riveters. The first was devoted to literature from Poland, on the occasion of the 2017 London Book Fair’s Polish focus. The second, on literature from Russia, coincided with ELNet’s Russian events at the British Library. In The Nordic Riveter of October 2017, five countries were represented: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
I normally review English-language editions of novels originally written in Italian, German and French, the languages and cultures I grew up with. But the editor of The Riveter asked whether I might review Estonian author Kai Aareleid’s Burning Cities, translated by Adam Cullen (Peter Owen Publishers, 2018). I’m very grateful for the suggestion: the novel weaves a powerful domestic tale within the larger tapestry of seven decades of Estonian history; most of the story unfolds in the years during which the country was part of the Soviet Union. You can find my article on pp. 58 and 59 of the magazine, or here. I hope it will encourage you to discover Kai Aareleid’s work and more of the riveting literature from the region.
Images courtesy of The European Literature Network.
A presentation of That Summer in Puglia took place on 16 April in the elegant surroundings of the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square. The Institute is a governmental organisation dedicated to promoting knowledge of Italy’s language and culture and to encouraging cultural and scientific collaboration with England and Wales.
My interviewer was Rosie Goldsmith, the acclaimed journalist, presenter, literary critic, Chair of the EBRD Prize, and much more! I’m so grateful to Rosie for her perceptive, engaged and knowledgeable questions.
Our discussion was introduced by Marco Delogu, Director of the Institute, under whose stewardship the organisation has hosted an exciting line-up of events across the arts and sciences. Check out the Institute’s rich schedule of forthcoming and past events here. Guests on the Literature side of the programme have included Roberto Calasso, Sandro Veronesi, Domenico Starnone, Ali Smith, Elif Shafak, Ben Okri, Jhumpa Lahiri… to name but a few.
Todd Swift, Director of Eyewear Publishing, spoke briefly about That Summer in Puglia before leaving Rosie and me to discuss the book in detail. Our conversation touched on plot, characters, setting, themes and structure, but also on aspects of various literary traditions (English, yes, but also Italian, German and French) which have flowed into it because of my personal history.
Many of the questions from the public were focused on the cross-cultural aspects of the novel and on the writing process: why had Puglia inspired me? Why is it an ideal setting for this particular story? Where does my detailed knowledge of Ostuni stem from? Which language do I consider to be my “mother tongue” and why? Having grown up in various countries, what are my views on cultural identity? How long did it take me to develop the plot, and how did I go about it?
Meeting people after the talk was a real joy. It was lovely to discover the variety of emotional resonances the book has for different people. I had been prepared for the fact that each reader will respond to certain aspects of a story more than to others, but I hadn’t expected how warmly people would share profound reflections and anecdotes from their lives. I’m very grateful to them.
The photos ‘Valeria and Rosie’, ‘Signing books’ and ‘Book display at the Institute by The Italian Bookshop’ are courtesy of Rosie Goldsmith, and reproduced with kind permission.
Rights to the photos ‘Marco Delogu’s introduction’ and ‘Todd Swift’s introduction’ are my own.
Waterstones Kensington launch – Valeria Vescina and Rachel Seiffert
Valeria Vescina and Rachel Seiffert in conversation
Waterstones, Kensington, hosted the London launch of That Summer in Puglia on 27 March, just four days after the Oxford Literary Festival debut. The launch took the form of a conversation with award-winning author Rachel Seiffert (A Boy in Winter, The Dark Room, The Walk Home), after an introduction by Alexandra Payne, Managing Editor of Eyewear Publishing. I’m very grateful to Rachel for her support: one of my tutors on the Goldsmiths MA in Creative Writing, she saw the novel develop from its early stages.
Her interview centred on three extracts from That Summer in Puglia, to introduce the audience to the principal characters and their relationships as well as to the book’s style and themes. Our discussion flowed naturally from there. The public contributed questions, comments and personal experiences. The book is set in the southern Italian region of Puglia, but its themes are universal: the perils of unresolved grief; the importance of all forms of love; the relationship between love and virtue.
Launch of ‘That Summer in Puglia’ at Waterstones, Kensington
Waterstones window for ‘That Summer in Puglia’
The Waterstones event being only the second on my schedule, it was heartening to spot in the audience a great number of familiar faces: friends, and Goldsmiths MA faculty and colleagues. I’m so grateful to them all for sustaining me during the process of writing the novel. The Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Cllr. Marie-Thérèse Rossi, and Cllrs. Addenbrooke and Pascall attended in their official capacity, as a gesture of civic gratitude: I was touched, as I’ve taught creative writing workshops at Kensington Central Library since 2013 on a pro bono basis, but hadn’t expected special thanks. I’m grateful also to Waterstones, and especially to its Kensington events manager, for the organisation and publicity. As a debut author, seeing the shop window filled with my books felt slightly surreal.
The Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Cllr. Marie-Thérèse Rossi
Valeria Vescina reading from ‘That Summer in Puglia’
The next London presentation of That Summer in Puglia will be at the Italian Cultural Institute on 16 April at 7 pm. The interviewer will be Rosie Goldsmith, the acclaimed journalist, presenter, literary critic and Chair of the EBRD Prize.
Press enquiries: please email publicist Helen McCusker, Booked PR (tel: +44 (0) 7951 078388), or you may contact me here.
That Summer in Puglia had its debut at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival on 23 March. This was Italian Day, when the Festival – in co-operation with the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute – annually showcases Italian culture. My interviewer at St. Cross College was University of Oxford academic and Il Sole 24 Ore Arts & Culture contributor Teresa Franco – sensitive, knowledgeable and insightful. We were introduced by poet Todd Swift, Director of Eyewear Publishing. The audience was large, warm and engaging.
Publisher Todd Swift introducing author Valeria Vescina and interviewer Teresa Franco
Oxford Literary Festival – Valeria Vescina and Teresa Franco
The day closed with a memorable Italian Gala Dinner at Lincoln College, hosted by the Director of the Festival, the College Rector and the Italian Embassy. The latter was represented by Minister Counselor Vincenzo Celeste and Head of Culture Federico Bianchi, both of whom had attended the launch of That Summer in Puglia, an honour for which I’m grateful. The Gala Dinner menu was devised by acclaimed chef and cookery writer Eleonora Galasso.
I wrote That Summer in Puglia in English, my literary mother tongue, but the story is set mostly in Puglia (southern Italy), where I was born and grew up. I was educated in Switzerland and the UK, and today live and work in London, but I’ve spent the holidays with family in my native region every year.
Puglia offered an ideal setting: its visible layers of history are integral to the story, a man’s excavation of his past. The region’s distinctive culture provided a framework for testing the characters and exploring the main themes: the role of all forms of love in human life; and the relationship between love and virtue.
I also hope the novel will help readers discover the cultural richness and variety within Southern Italy, by immersing them in an authentically Apulian atmosphere. In Puglia, traces of the past surface in unexpected ways: from the art of its early, Hellenised Illyrian settlers, to Byzantine paintings, Norman churches, and the palaces and fortifications built under the Anjou, the Aragonese, the Venetians and the Spanish. The region’s cuisine and inhabitants bear living testimony to the passage of all these cultures.
Blackwell’s bookshelves at the Oxford Literary Festival
‘That Summer in Puglia’ on Blackwell’s Oxford Literary Festival display
The moment of That Summer in Puglia’s debut is also one of gratitude for and to all those who have sustained me throughout the process of writing the novel: family, friends, colleagues, teachers… and the authors and publisher who have encouraged and championed my work. To you all, my deepest thanks. A book about the importance of all forms of love would not have been possible without you.
Press enquiries: please email publicist Helen McCusker, Booked PR (tel: +44 (0) 7951 078388), or you may contact me here.
Jake Heggie’s first opera, ‘Dead Man Walking’, just had its UK première. It forms part of the Barbican’s ‘Art of Change’ season, which explores how artists reflect, respond to, and may affect, society. It’s a work which deserves to be shown more widely. For my review of it for Seen and Heard International click here.
Why write two articles about it? Because the Kepler’s Trial project is and does so much of what I think contemporary opera is capable of being and doing. It delves into the past to engage with the present.
For the review of Kepler’s Trial on Seen And Heard International, click here.
For the article in Talking Humanities on the unusual process behind the opera, click here.
My latest article for Seen And Heard International covers L’Arpeggiata and Giuseppina Bridelli. Their intelligent, exciting programme at Wigmore Hall revealed just how musically innovative the early Baroque was. Astoundingly beautiful and expressive music, gloriously performed. You can access the full review by clicking here.
Kepler’s Trial is a remarkable example of opera firmly engaging with the present – a characteristic of this art form since its earliest days. It does so in two interrelated ways: by condensing and conveying the results of uncompromising scholarship; and by revisiting the past. It tells the story of Katharina Kepler (1546-1622), accused of witchcraft in 1615, and of her son Johannes (1571-1630), the famous astronomer, who defended her during her six-year trial. By shedding light on true historical events, it confronts us with present-day attitudes towards big themes, as if a magical telescope which can probe the past had hit upon a mirror and found its own image hazily but surely reflected back.
The panel discussion which preceded the sold-out performance at the V&A highlighted some of the themes. Prof. Ulinka Rublack, whose The Astronomer and the Witch offers the basis for the opera, spoke about old women’s vulnerability to injurious representations. Prof. Simon Schaffer provided insights into Kepler’s complexity as a man rooted in his time and yet also transcending it (no surprise the space observatory launched by Nasa to discover Earth-like planets is named after Kepler). Dame Marina Warner placed the astronomer’s youthful The Dream in the context of wonder tales and representations of ‘wise women’. The composer Tim Watts and the video artist Aura Satz shared some of the considerations which went into the music, libretto and film elements (see review).
Behind Kepler’s Trial is a multi-disciplinary effort involving scholars from the University of Cambridge and other institutions, across several faculties. A successful synthesis of that effort into a compelling outcome is worth shouting about and being brought to a wider public.
In October this year, the European Literature Network published The Nordic Riveter, a compendium of writing about contemporary Nordic fiction in English translation. It’s available in bookshops, embassies, universities, libraries and arts organisations – and now also for download from http://www.eurolitnetwork.com/the-nordic-riveter-to-download/ . Whether you are a ‘Nordic Noir’ addict, a newbie to literature from the region, or are curious to discover its different strands and what they offer, you’ll find much to inspire and inform your reading.
This is the third of the European Literature Network’s Riveters. The first was devoted to literature from Poland, on the occasion of the 2017 London Book Fair’s Polish focus. The second, on literature from Russia, coincided with ELNet’s Russian events at the British Library. This time, five countries are represented: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
The Polish Riveter
The Russian Riveter
I normally review English-language editions of novels originally written in Italian, German and French, the languages and cultures I grew up with. But the editor of The Nordic Riveter asked whether I might take a look at Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo’s The Core of the Sun, which had come highly recommended. I’m very grateful for his suggestion: the book is highly engaging and thought-provoking. You can find my review here: http://www.eurolitnetwork.com/rivetingreviews-valeria-vescina-reviews-the-core-of-the-sun-by-johanna-sinisalo/. I hope it will intrigue you and encourage you to discover this and more of the literature discussed in The Nordic Riveter.
All images from the European Literature Network website.