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10 November 2023

Towards Frankfurt 2024
Interview with writer Giulia Caminito

Maddalena Fingerle

Giulia Caminito (1988) lives and works in Rome. After graduating in political philosophy, she made her debut in 2016 with La grande A, published by Giunti, which won the Bagutta Opera Prima Prize, the Berto Prize and the Brancati Giovani Prize. In 2018 the author returned with Un giorno verrà, published by Bompiani, which won the Premio Fiesole Under 40. In 2021 she published L’acqua del lago non è mai dolce, which won the Premio Campiello and was a finalist for the Premio Strega. Caminito’s books have been translated in over twenty countries. In German, Ein Tag wird kommen (Un giorno verrà) and Das Wasser des Sees ist niemals süß (L’acqua del lago non è mai dolce) were published in 2020 and 2022 respectively by the Wagenbach publishing house. In the German-speaking world, the two novels translated by Barbara Kleiner were a huge success with the public and the critics, so much so that in the Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung, Giulia Caminito was described by Karen Krüger as the most successful Italian female writer of her generation.



When and how did you start writing?


I started properly and intensely during my university years, around the age of twenty. At that time I dedicated myself to philosophy with great commitment, the academic texts were complex and the exams were many. I lived in the provinces where there was almost nothing to do in winter and I never liked going out late at night, I always had a nerdy spirit: reading, video games, DIY graphics. Then I discovered that I liked writing, that I would immerse myself in writing and I could spend hours and hours working on my stories. From there I never stopped, it was a diversion from the difficulty of my studies, from the great themes and thoughts I was dealing with and which I was wrestling with in the texts. By writing I could detach myself from the rest.



What is your typical day like (if any)?


It depends, usually in the morning I dedicate myself to answering emails and making phone calls and business meetings, in the afternoon I write, read or prepare materials for speeches and lectures, in the evening I often hold writing or publishing courses. If I am not at home but on the road for conferences or festivals, book promotions, I usually leave in the morning by train or plane, arrive, settle down and go over the notes I have taken for the meetings, then go to the presentation and afterwards do some interviews, eat with the organisers and return quite tired to my hotel. I obviously have a private life as well, but let’s just say that I never have completely free days, even after going out in the evening when I come back I work late into the night if I have a deadline, an edit, a revision, a reading or an article to send out soon.



I know it is a trivial question, but I also know that the answer will not be: why do you write?


Because I was a child storyteller, I used to tell them in my head before bed or in a whisper while playing with puppets and dolls. I just can’t be without inventing stories and writing them fulfils this nature of mine, this constant desire I have to be able to put together characters, plots, settings and dialogues. To choose the destiny of every word, of every desperate or joyful moment, to establish the ascending or descending parabola of life, the shocks, the losses, the moments of revenge. There is no other possible way to do this than through writing.



Do you also read for pleasure?


Yes, I try to carve out time for pleasure reading too, but it is not easy. There are months when I have to read a lot for work and it is not possible for me to also add my own choice of reading, sometimes it is frustrating, I always seem to be behind on all the books I would like to read.



Which authors have shaped you?


There are lots and lots of them. During my university period, the author who most fascinated me was Montaigne, but also Damasio and Braidotti, Kojeve’s lectures on Hegel, were among the readings and studies that were most formative. Then there was the phase of early fiction reading and I got to know the writing of Dave Eggers – he taught me a lot. From that moment on, I read a lot of fiction until I discovered the Italian twentieth century and realised that there were many women writers to read and it was these readings that changed me the most. To realise that there were also women who narrated certain aspects of society, I know it sounds banal, but I did not take it for granted. The life and writing of two women authors was particularly important to me and I often quote them because they are little known: Laudomia Bonanni and Livia De Stefani.



It is not, unfortunately, trivial at all. Do you remember the moment when your path crossed with German publishing?


It happened with my novel Un giorno verrà, which was acquired by the Wagenbach publishing house in Berlin. I was immediately excited at the idea of being part of the catalogue of such a refined publisher, historically important and full of prominent Italian authors. I was in Berlin shortly afterwards for the first time and went to visit them, I met the director in person, my editor, it was a powerful and rich experience.



What is your relationship with the translator, the very talented Barbara Kleiner? Did you meet? Did you talk about the text?


Barbara came to Italy a couple of years ago to study the setting of L’acqua del lago non è mai dolce. We were able to take a tour of Anguillara, the village on the lake where the novel takes place, eat some fish and have a chat. We have quite an extensive ‘epistolary’ exchange. She always asks me many questions about the text and many times she has found inconsistencies or flaws in the Italian version that we have amended in the German translation.



What impression did you get of the German publishing world?


I had the impression that it is very attentive, careful and that there is consideration for many social and political aspects of writing, that the writer’s work is taken very seriously and is respected in the various stages of artistic production, from writing to promotion and meeting the public.



Do you think German-speaking audiences and critics read you differently from Italian-speaking ones? If so, how and why?


It seems to me that there is a different kind of attention, I often notice different curiosity and questions, even in the criticism, it seemed to me that objections were raised that had not emerged in Italy. In every country I go to, different considerations emerge about the same book. Abroad, writers are expected to expound their political ideas, to talk about current events and their country even during public meetings. It seems to me that this happens less in Italy.



Have you ever heard a German reading from one of your books? What effect did it have on you?


Yes, it has happened several times, it has helped me to learn some words in German. Knowing the Italian version, I recognised the names of the characters, the scenes and knew my way around. At one meeting without realising it I started nodding because I was grasping some points and they thought I was able to answer in German, but unfortunately not yet. Hearing yourself in another language is always disorienting, I think. It seems unbelievable to me every time it happens.