The Fireflies of Autumn
How strange it is the way the idyll of life in a Tuscan village can animate a literary mind with tall tales and true of a past that is partly gritty realism and partly a dreamt-up extravaganza of the panorama of life on the Italian land, where every beast is a creature of poignancy as well as poetry, but everything lilts like a fairytale even if the smell of the earth is rich with the reek of manure.
Giovannoni’s stories exhibit their own folk wisdom, though they are in fact as indebted to the conventions of magical realism as they are to the author’s remembrancing of his family’s past in a dirt-poor northern Italian village, one illuminated at every point by its beliefs in communal values and in the angels and devils, the creatures of the spirit who inhere in every material world.
A cynic would say the narrative style is faux naive and the oracular folksiness of this saga, in which peasant voices blend and perform their rituals of counterpoint and narrative crisscrossing, is an essentially literary construct.
It scarcely matters because these tales will fall on any willing ears like the enchanting bells of a wisdom older than literature, even if literature is the door through which we go to encounter these intimately familiar and at the same time archetypically strange tones.
It’s not hard to see how Giovannoni will get brownie points for having brought these exotically colourful slices of collective life at its most earthy and schematically simplified back to literary Australia, but his achievement is, by the same token, hard to quarrel with.
These stories have gravity, they have charm, they speak to our apprehension of a world that is weirder than ours and closer to mythological modes of thought, but they also have a power of magic that is not separate from the sure-footedness of the author’s narrative technique, which is one of the thousand faces of an art that disguises art.
Are they in fact tales that can hold their own with the complex home truths of Calvino’s? Well, they might not belong on the same high rung of the shelf, but they have a place in the same library of the imagination.
In The Fireflies of Autumn: And Other Tales of San Ginese, Giovannoni has taken the myth and the memory of a village and made it into a thing of wonder, which is also in its way a habitation of truth and wisdom. QSS
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 14, 2018 as "Moreno Giovannoni, The Fireflies of Autumn". Subscribe here.