A generation of Italian readers have Francesco Pacifico to thank for delivering a wealth of world-renowned books to their country. Pacifico is one of his nation’s most esteemed literary translators, having recapitulated the works of authors as varied as Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Dave Eggers, Dana Spiotta, and Will Eisner. Now Pacifico adds a new novel of his own to that distinguished assembly: The Story of My Purity is an irreverent look at sex and piety in modern Italy, with a narrator for the ages in Piero Rosini, an ultra-conservative Catholic whose ultra-conflicted yearning for his sister-in-law leads him on an odyssey from Rome to Paris that’s as sardonically wicked as it is tenderly humanistic. This week, Pacifico recommends three novels which share with Purity a spirit of wise defiance and the kind of characters who are all the more endearing and hilarious as their predicaments go from bad to worse.
By Italo Svevo
“Zeno’s Conscience is the Italian novel. It’s full of comedy, modernist sharp angles, and mood swings. For the Italian bourgeois self-hating upper-middle class novelist, raised to the cult of engagées intellectual like Pasolini and Calvino — this useless story of a man who wants to marry a beautiful woman but ends up taking her ugly sister, then cheating on her repeatedly, is a source of constant creative puzzlement. It’s also a fictional diary about trying to quit smoking, and about love and death with no strings attached. Your go-to book for dark humor and everything serious.”
Seize the Day
By Saul Bellow
“A perfect novella about a middle-aged man who lives in the shadow of his father. The son is an insecure wreck, his father an accomplished doctor. The son needs money for some ill-advised investments: his dad lives the good life in a grand hotel, and is the main source of the son’s inability to cope with the world and stand his ground. This book came as a relief in my life about ten years after my uncle, discussing my dad’s talent and good luck with his job, told me it must be a real pain in the ass having to live up to that kind of father, and that he thought my life wasn’t going to be easy.”
By Gustave Flaubert
“Sentimental Education is a book about nothing: the eighteenth-century version of Seinfeld. Flaubert invented a brand of literary flow that gave incredible substance and nuance to this adventure of an idealistic and complicated young man — an ‘adventure’ that consists of intricate and pointless problem solving around Paris, and of his Platonic love for a woman that’s married to a wealthy moron. Imagine how good Flaubert’s writing must be, if it got people to read this kind of ‘story.’ “