JF: How do Italian attitudes about work differ from those of the British or Americans? Do you ever get irritated by our impression that you just sit around in nicely ironed trousers drinking good coffee?
PZ: After almost three years of economic recession and youth unemployment estimated at around twenty per cent, it is fair to say that Italian attitudes towards work have become more serious. A significant part of the country certainly still enjoys a high quality of life and probably the work/life balance is on average better here than in a lot of other countries (including, famously, the US), but jobs are becoming scarce and this makes the mood gloomier than it ever was. An important social scientist has recently described Italy as a country that has lost its taste for life, and many commentators have subscribed to his assessment.
Does Italy have a culture of literary magazines, and why did you think it needed Granta?
It does, indeed. In the thirties it was a bunch of literary magazines (La Voce, Lacerba) that contributed to the renewal of Italian literature, and much of the debate on the role of art and culture that took place in the seventies found an echo in magazines like Alfabeta and Aut Aut, that were literary in a broader sense. Alberto Moravia founded Nuovi argomenti, which still exists. Carlo Emilio Gadda published one of the crucial Italian novels of the twentieth century, his Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana, on the magazine Letteratura first. The reason for bringing Granta to Italy is that many of those magazines no longer exist, and, above all, that there has never been an international literary magazine here.
Tell me about some of the Italian writers in this issue. All of them are new to me. Who should we be watching?
The first answer is: just about everybody, or we would not have selected them! One name: Silvia Avallone. She was the literary debut sensation of 2010 here. Her novel, Acciaio, i.e. Steel, describes what is left of the working class in an industrial mill town in Tuscany with powerful effectiveness and great human feeling. It is interesting to note that another well-received novel by young Italian poet and fiction writer Mario Desiati, just published, also deals with the fate of a former generation of Italian blue-collar workers, this time in Apulia. New Italian writers seem to care a lot about manual work and class relations, more so perhaps than the generation preceding them. They are, in their own way, more politically aware. As an English-language reader you may find it useful to know that Acciaio will be published by Viking Penguin in 2013 in the US; Giorgio Vasta will have his last novel come out from Faber in the UK later this year; Michela Murgia’s Accabadora is due for release from MacLehose Press, again in 2011; and that Marcello Fois has been published in English by Harvill Secker.
Many of us have read (or read about) Roberto Saviano. Do the ways of the Italian government and society place any additional challenges on reporters there, or is his case exceptional?
Roberto Saviano has written about the mob that stifles the lives of decent citizens in the South (and elsewhere). The mob – who are very good at telling somebody who can hurt them – have sentenced him to death. His case is almost without precedent here – but then, so is the force of his writing.
Your next issue is ‘Sex’. How do you think our purse (cover) will go down?
It has already been proudly displayed as a panel at the Granta launch party that we held at the Turin Book Fair. Somebody tried to steal it, so I guess you can say that the critical reception was strong.
Photograph © Michele Bella.