Sardinia: hidden treasures of Contemporary Italian literature

From Giovanni Verga, master of Italian Verismo, via the nobel prize winner Luigi Pirandello, the politically engaged Leonardo Sciascia, to the best-selling crime novelist Andrea Camilleri, Sicily’s role in the history of modern and contemporary Italian literature will quickly be acknowledged by anyone familiar with the culture of il Bel Paese.

The same can hardly be said of Italy’s other major island, Sardinia, despite the fact that just Nuoro-born Grazia Deledda (1871-1936) won the Nobel prize already in 1926 – i.e. eight years before Pirandello did -, the second woman (after Swedish Selma Lagerlöf) and second Italian writer (after Giosuè Carducci) to be awarded by the Swedish Academy. And despite the fact that the existence of a multilingual Wikipedia page on the Nuova letteratura sarda both recognizes the emergence of a literary identity and signals the development of a related academic interest: from Birgit Wagner’s Sardinien – Insel im Dialog. Texte, Diskurse, Filme (2008), via Laura Fortini and Paola Pittalis’ Isolitudine: scrittrici e scrittori della Sardegna (2010), to Alessandro Marongiu’s Scrittori sardi nel terzo millennio: saggi, recensioni e articoli, 2007-2017 (2017).

I’ll admit that, while considering myself a ‘heavy reader’, only Deledda’s classic Canne al vento and Sergio Atzeni‘s (1952-1995) witty Il figlio di Bakunin and epic Passavamo sulla terra leggeri belonged to my list of read books before last month, when I first visited Sardinia. Triggered by the visit – and helped by the excellent collection of books by Sardinian authors available at the University of Amsterdam (also thanks to Assistant professor Maria Urban, who graduated at the Università di Cagliari) – I managed to explore the works of several contemporary authors from Sardinia, and what I can already say by now (while still waiting to read Gavino Ledda‘s (1938) Padre padrone, Paola Soriga‘s (1979) La stagione che verrà, and Alessandro De Roma‘s (1970) Vita e morte di Ludovico Lauter) is: what an impressively varied and inspiring literary production!!!

Without aiming here at a critical assessment, what stroke me as the most thrilling features shared by the books I have read so far – including Deledda’s and Atzeni’s, from previous years – are the following:

— the use of the Sardinian language, varying from sporadic in Deledda and Giuseppe Dessì‘s (1909-1977) Il disertore, to quite extensive in Salvatore Niffoi‘s (1950) La vedova scalza: which is something hardly surprising when we consider the attention and (public) initiatives – such as those of the Regione Sardegna (Lingua sarda, or the online dictionary) – justly meant at promoting and safeguarding a language sadly labelled as ‘definitely endangered’ in the 2010 edition of the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

— the role played by the harsh landscape of the Sardinian inland as compared or opposed to the one played by the sea, which is often seen as a somehow calming presence, to be poetically flown over by the swallows heading for Africa (such as in Milena Agus’ (1955) wonderful Mal di pietre), or to be sailed across by Sardinians seeking their (mis)fortunes on the Italian mainland or farther away, with the major traumatic experience of World War 1 – which saw a disproportionate number of Sardinian soldiers dying on the Italian-Austrian front – providing narrative material not only, needless to say, to Dessi’s aforementioned Il disertore, but to Marcello Fois‘ (1960) Stirpe and to Salvatore Satta‘s (1902-1975) Il giorno del giudizio as well.

— last but definitely not least – and explaining also my choice of photos for the post – is the large gallery of unforgettable female characters featured in most of the books I’ve read. Mercede and her daughter Marianna in Marcello Fois’ Stirpe, Nel tempo di mezzo and Luce perfetta. Dessì’s Mariangela, the mother of Il disertore. Little Maria and Tzia Bonaria in Michela Murgia‘s (1972) Accabadora. Revengeful Mintonia, title-character of Niffoi’s La vedova scalza. The narrator and her grandmother in Agus’ Mal di pietre, which – should I name two titles to begin with, if you feel like exploring Contemporary Sardinian literature – would definitely be my choice, together with Satta’s Il giorno del giudizio. All books are available at the UvA Library. Buona lettura!

Photos, top to bottom: Grazia Deledda (from, Paola Soriga (daily La Nuova Sardegna), Milena Agus (Enciclopedia delle donne) and Michela Murgia (La Nuova Sardegna).

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blog voor de Collectie Romaanse Talen van de Universiteitsbibliotheek van de UvA (universiteit van Amsterdam)
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1 Response to Sardinia: hidden treasures of Contemporary Italian literature

  1. I have just read Murgia’s Accabadora: beautiful!

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