It has been a pleasure and an honour to share some reflections with friends of the Italian Cultural Institute, London. Faced with the heaviness of our times, I find it helpful to think of the lens offered by Italo Calvino’s concept of ‘lightness of thoughtfulness’, which has little in common with the habitual definition of lightness. Calvino is speaking of its value in literature, but, as invariably happens with the best of writing, it overcomes those boundaries and spills over into life by sparking trains of thought. Isn’t the written page, after all, a response to reality? So, here is the article for ICI London’s ‘Stay Safe’, a series which has brought the light of fellow authors’ questions and reflections to my days during the COVID-19 crisis. Mine is #46, so there are many more if you’d like to take a look.
Below is an image of the article. You can click here to read it on the website of the Italian Cultural Institute. The article features also in the anthology Stay Safe, an e-book published by the Institute and featuring 49 Italian and British writers, including Sandro Veronesi, Paolo Nelli, Hanif Kureishi and Boyd Tonkin.
From Italian Cultural Institute London Facebook page and website.
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.