Interview with Paola Gallo and Angela Rastelli (Einaudi editions)
newitalianbooks hosts a series of interviews, in one or more voices, with editors-in-chief and editors of Italian fiction, to tell the identity of their editorial proposals to readers around the world. In this interview, Paola Gallo, head of Italian fiction, and Angela Rastelli, editor for the publishing house Einaudi, answer the question: how would you describe Einaudi’s Italian fiction books to readers abroad? What are its key features and strengths? Which risks, in terms of literature or other genres, have worked best in foreign countries, and, in your opinion, why?
Paola Gallo answers:
The truth is that we have the incredible (and undeserved) privilege of not having to introduce the Einaudi publishing house, neither in Italy nor abroad: for the past ninety year, its brand – the image of the ostrich set on white – has represented one of the most powerful symbols of culture worldwide.
Of course, such a privilege is first and foremost a responsibility. The work we do every day is inscribed within the context of a lustrous past, and yet it cannot be tied back to the past; publishing novels means questioning the present, sounding it out, even though escapism. This is how we see Italian fiction, that which upon which the selection of our titles is based. Literary quality is obviously a pivotal criterion: the skill and ingenuity of details, the awareness that formal choices are part of the content, and determine its meaning; the representation of our world; the uniqueness of characters – and of course, a strong story always helps, even if there are light-hearted stories that truly soar.
The fortune of books abroad is unpredictable, and very often surprises us (for better or worse). It’s a bit like looking in a mirror outside our homes: we see ourselves differently under an oblique, merciless light, or a warm and soft light, or when a reflection in shop window gives us an unexpected image of us, looking hunched or nimble, in a way we didn’t think we were.
That is why we are always so curious about the answers we receive, and we constantly find cause for thought in them: looking at ourselves through the eyes of others we also discover the image of Italy, in its evolution (over the years I have seen various phases, fashion trends, waves). What they expect. The stereotypes and the ideas that stir enthusiasm, the judgments we hold on to, the mythical aura, the charm, the surprises.
Obviously each case has its own story, but if we want to ask ourselves about the reasons why some titles have been particularly successful, we can attempt to trace some patterns. I’ll choose a few representative titles out of a thousand possible examples.
If I look back at our great international success stories, I can’t help but think of Paolo Cognetti‘s Le otto montagne (The Eights Mountains) and Donatella Di Pietrantonio’s A girl Returned: two novels that were already hugely successful in Italy, two coming-of-age stories that are very much rooted in their territory, but are universal in their sentiment, which played the same of emotional strings in readers everywhere.
Nicola Lagioia‘s The City of the Living is however different: this a very specific and grisly cold case in a fierce, fallen Rome – in short, the most Italian of Italian stories, one that is finding huge success everywhere (particularly in Spain and France, but it will be the same in the many countries where it is about to be released), thanks to the magnetic force of a writing style that plunges the reader into the (absolute) experience of evil.
Lastly, it may be worth mentioning Alba Donati‘s Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop, a poetic and joyful journal of a very special bookseller: her small literary shelter in the heart of Tuscany has filled publishers across the world with enthusiasm, reawakening a feeling of redemption, the power of beauty, poetry, and of learning to live life.
Tasmania, by Paolo Giordano, probably deserves its own separate space – a book that captures the sentiment of our time, crossing all borders of nation, language, or culture.
These are only a few of the directions I can attempt to pin down, the ones that open doors with greater ease. Sometimes this happens with a first novel, a debut that sets book fairs on fire; other times, success comes after a long career, when the right title arrives: the most representative case is that of Domenico Starnone, who with his novel Ties – an intense and violent story of a separation – has seen the number of foreign publishers multiply, relaunching his entire backlist, starting with his masterpiece, Via Gemito, which won the Strega literary prize in 2001.
Obviously, while I mention these few names, a thousand others come to mind, and each one deserves a specific question, and it would also be interesting to understand why the same book can make the French fall in love and the Swedes feel completely indifferent… There are many answers to these questions, all having to do with both text and context, and with chance, but above all with the sparks generated by people.
In the end, the process is really linear: there is a person who writes, and a person who reads. This is what we need to remember, when we try to invent strategies, or to explain certain phenomena in the aftermath. At the end of the day, what we do is rather straightforward – we let energy flow, tightening that thread which binds the author to us, and then to publishers and to readers, one by one, everywhere in the world. It sounds obvious, but I believe this to be the deeper meaning of our work. To respect books and authors, walking side by side with them, listening to their words without distorting them. And then offer them to readers, and to anyone who will come after us. We do this all the while avoiding chasing the market, trends, and expectations too much.
Everything always starts in the same way, with the pleasure we feel when we sit down comfortably, take a book in our hands and start reading.
Angela Rastelli continues, going in depth for newitalianbooks about three great success stories , published by Einaudi in recent years, and the latest novels by Mario Desiati, Marco Missiroli and Paolo Giordano.
If we come to the latest books of ours that have sparked a great deal of interest abroad, I would like to mention three authors in their forties who are already well-known for their previous novels.
First of all, I’d like to talk about Mario Desiati, who won the Strega 2022 prize with Spatriati (released in April 2021). Undoubtedly being awarded the prestigious Prize gave a boost to foreign sales, we are now at ten countries. In fact, in the aftermath of the Strega literary prize, the world English rights of the book were sold to the American publishing house Other Press. But several important sales – such as the one in France (to Grasset) and Spain – had already taken place before the book was considered for the prize. Mario Desiati had never been published in these countries, and this tells us of the strength of the novel, of how the story of Francesco and Claudia, of their feeling outcast, i.e. outside the box, out of the norm, is capable of speaking of profoundly contemporary feeling among the youth. The publishers who decided to translate Spatriati are literary, quality publishers, and tend to be independent. The first foreign edition has just come out: it is the Greek translation and the publisher, Klidarithmos, decided to use the same image used in the Einaudi cover. Next spring, the Spanish translation is to be published, and in the autumn of 2023, releases by Grasset and Other Press are also planned. In Germany, the novel will be translated by Wagenbach, and they will certainly aim to launch Spatriati as a flagship title at Frankfurt 2024, when Italy will be the guest of honour.
Marco Missiroli came from the success of his previous book, Fidelity, winner of the 2019 Strega Youth literary prize, which inspired a Netflix original TV series, distributed worldwide. The new novel Avere tutto is an intimate, insightful story about the relationship between a father and a son, two men with many secrets and above all a desire to win, always. In the background, an unusual and very lively town of Rimini. As Domenico Starnone wrote, reviewing the book, “Missiroli has taken the opportunity for a daring leap, he has done more and better”. Abroad, the novel is also gathering great enthusiasm; it has already been sold in thirteen countries shortly after its release in Italy (from Wagenbach for Germany to Calmann-Lévy for France), and film rights have already been optioned by the production company Greenland, which will produce a film based on the novel.
Paolo Giordano‘s latest novel, Tasmania, which came out at the end of October, was one of the most auctioned books at the last Frankfurt fair. This novel probes the sentiments of our time, with a captivating, very precise literary voice. It is a unique in its genre in the Italian literary landscape, capable of holding together a scientific outlook over the world with a unique sensitivity to the depths of the human soul. It has already been sold in over thirty countries, in most cases before it was released in Italy, and after hard-fought auctions. In Germany, for example, the novel was bought by Suhrkamp, a publisher of refined taste, one that is very selective in its choice of Italian authors. In France, on the other hand, the book was purchased by the young and independent Le Bruit Du Monde, founded by Marie-Pierre Gracedieu, former Gallimard editor; in Spain, Tusquets, part of the Planeta publishing group. Tasmania has already been published (one month after the Italian release) in Holland, with the same cover image (an original illustration specially created by Lorenzo Ceccotti) as the Italian edition.