Swimming to Elba: A Novel

( 4 )

Overview

A sensually charged novel about two girls growing up fast in a failing industrial town on the coast of Italy

Anna and Francesca are on the brink of everything: high school, adulthood, and the edge of ambition in their provincial town. It’s summer in Piombino, Italy, and in their skimpy bathing suits, flaunting their newly acquired curves, the girls suddenly have everyone in their thrall. This power opens their imagination to a destiny beyond Piombino; the resort town of Elba is ...

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Overview

A sensually charged novel about two girls growing up fast in a failing industrial town on the coast of Italy

Anna and Francesca are on the brink of everything: high school, adulthood, and the edge of ambition in their provincial town. It’s summer in Piombino, Italy, and in their skimpy bathing suits, flaunting their newly acquired curves, the girls suddenly have everyone in their thrall. This power opens their imagination to a destiny beyond Piombino; the resort town of Elba is just a ferry ride away and yet they’ve never dared to go. Maybe the future is waiting for them there, or somewhere beyond.

When their friendship suffers a blow, the girls set off on their own only to discover that their budding sexuality takes them further than they expect, though not as far as their dreams. As their choices take them to a painful crossroads, the girls must reconnect if they have any hope of escaping their small town destinies.

In this poetic, prizewinning debut, Silvia Avallone captures the lost innocence of a generation. Harrowing yet ultimately redemptive, Swimming to Elba is a story about the power of friendship, and the way that family, friendship, and economics shape our world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Avallone's engaging debut novel explores the troubled friendship of two sexually precocious young girls, "thirteen going on fourteen," in the dead-end Italian town of Piombino, where the kids who don't escape often end up toiling at the local Lucchini steel plant. The author deftly captures the miserable home life of Francesca Morganti, the prettiest girl on the Via Stalingrado, whose father, Enrico, beats her and her defeated mother, Rosa. Francesca is in love with her best friend, Anna Sorrentino, who lives one floor up with her overprotective brother, Alessio; her Communist mother, Sandra; and her shady father, Arturo; who disappears for months at a time and returns with armfuls of gifts. Together, the girls dream of making it to Elba, the lush island just a short boat ride away from their constrictive coastal town. But a schism in their relationship is wrought by the arrival of Alessio's friend, Mattia, who's a good 10 years older than the girls and soon captures Anna's attention. Without Anna's friendship, Francesca withers under the rule of her abusive father, and begins to relinquish herself to a bleak future. Avallone does a good job of capturing the intensity of life-long female friendship and concomitant jealousies. Misfortunes pile up in the wake of the girls' absence from one another's lives, and while the central problem is eventually resolved, a handful of lesser plotlines are left dangling. (June)
Booklist
“Readers will devour this richly detailed, sensual bildungsroman.”
Lib�ration
“A galvanizing social novel, spacious and strenuous, like a film that would have been cosigned by Ken Loach and Gus Van Sant.”
Le Parisien
“Powerful. As trenchant as it is true.”
Libération
“A galvanizing social novel, spacious and strenuous, like a film that would have been cosigned by Ken Loach and Gus Van Sant.”
Goffredo Fofi
“Characters unlike any you’ll find in Italian literature nowadays.”
Giorgio De Rienzo
“A book that skims close to the realm of the epic in its description of the desperate and empty lust for life of a tribe of young people and the small and vast tragedies that emerge from their struggles.”
Giovanni Tesio
“A novel capable of holding together—in the drift or in the tragedy of many lives—the thread of a hope that springs from two young lives that may be destined to fit together.”
Giovanni Pacchiano
“Silvia Avallone has a gift for painting a believable picture of not only her two leading characters, but of a crowd of actors: grief-stricken women, lazy factory workers, brutish thugs who frequent lap-dancing bars, young girls and boys who want to make the world their own. . . . Something verging on the operatic elegantly fills the pages of this remarkable novel.”
Giuseppe Conte
“With Silvia Avallone, we are in the presence of a natural, original, and untutored talent, capable of capturing the contradictions of her own time in a rebellious, heartbreaking way. But the greatness of this book, at once carnal and chaste [...] lies in the powerful way that it identifies beauty and friendship as the two decisive, all-encompassing emotions of adolescence. It is a book that demands love, in its truthfulness, in its refusal to turn away from the life-giving breath of poetry.”
Massimo Onofri
“Avallone skillfully tugs every thread in her tapestry with an artist’s hand. . . . This Avallone is a force of nature, with her exacting, precise prose, as in the spectacular opening passages.”
Davide Barili
“Following in the footsteps of the great tradition of a Tuscan and European author like Romano Bilenchi.”
Dacia Maraini
Swimming to Elba is intelligent and well written. It deserves its success: Silvia Avallone gives us a penetrating vision of the way the new proletariat lives. She narrates that story very well. I was reminded of Tuscan authors such as Carlo Cassola and Vasco Pratolini. She is a modern writer, but you can sense those roots.”
Gianfranco Franchi
“From this first novel, she might one day write a novel that is to literature what Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento was for film.”
Caterina Soffici
International praise:
“Powerful. As trenchant as it is true.”
Le Parisien

“A galvanizing social novel, spacious and strenuous, like a film that would have been cosigned by Ken Loach and Gus Van Sant.”
Libération

“Characters unlike any you’ll find in Italian literature nowadays.”
Goffredo Fofi

“A book that skims close to the realm of the epic in its description of the desperate and empty lust for life of a tribe of young people and the small and vast tragedies that emerge from their struggles.”
—Giorgio De Rienzo, Corriere delle Sera

“A novel capable of holding together—in the drift or in the tragedy of many lives—the thread of a hope that springs from two young lives that may be destined to fit together.”
—Giovanni Tesio, Tuttolibri—La Stampa

“Silvia Avallone has a gift for painting a believable picture of not only her two leading characters, but of a crowd of actors: grief-stricken women, lazy factory workers, brutish thugs who frequent lap-dancing bars, young girls and boys who want to make the world their own. . . . Something verging on the operatic elegantly fills the pages of this remarkable novel.”
—Giovanni Pacchiano, Il Sole 24 Ore

“With Silvia Avallone, we are in the presence of a natural, original, and untutored talent, capable of capturing the contradictions of her own time in a rebellious, heartbreaking way. But the greatness of [Swimming to Elba], at once carnal and chaste [...] lies in the powerful way that it identifies beauty and friendship as the two decisive, all-encompassing emotions of adolescence. It is a book that demands love, in its truthfulness, in its refusal to turn away from the life-giving breath of poetry.”
—Giuseppe Conte, Il Giornale

“Avallone skillfully tugs every thread in her tapestry with an artist’s hand. . . . This Avallone is a force of nature, with her exacting, precise prose, as in the spectacular opening passages.”
—Massimo Onofri, Avvenire

“Following in the footsteps of the great tradition of a Tuscan and European author like Romano Bilenchi.”
—Davide Barili, Gazzetta di Parma

Swimming to Elba is intelligent and well written. It deserves its success: Silvia Avallone gives us a penetrating vision of the way the new proletariat lives. She narrates that story very well. I was reminded of Tuscan authors such as Carlo Cassola and Vasco Pratolini. She is a modern writer, but you can sense those roots.”
—Dacia Maraini, Oggi

“From this first novel, [Silvia Avallone] might one day write a novel that is to literature what Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento was for film.”
—Gianfranco Franchi, Secolo d’Italia

“A masterpiece of fine writing, literature in its purest state, as if the words had flowed like molten steel out of the blast furnace, to recount perfect characters and a magnificent story.”

Kirkus Reviews
Who can help two young women escape the gravitational pull of their hometown? Can they rely on each other, or will they have to separate and trust others? Avallone's debut novel tells an uneasy coming-of-age story. On the cusp of 14, on the cusp of young womanhood, best friends Anna and Francesca delight in their changing bodies. And so do all the men in town. Whether flaunting their assets in bikinis, sneaking into cabanas with boys, or performing a daily morning striptease, the girls revel in drawing as much attention to themselves as possible. Indeed, Avallone's imagery incessantly sexualizes everything from the girls' bodies to the machinery of the steel mills. Yet, as Francesca's father and Anna's older brother worry about the girls' provocative behavior, they also struggle against economic disparity. Their own crowded shores of Piombino are littered with trash and drugs, while opposite, the pristinely white beaches of Elba beckon. Anna and Francesca will soon have to choose: work in the steel mills, marry a steel worker, or somehow escape to Elba. Staying in Piombino holds little attraction, particularly given the models of their own parents' marriages: Francesca's father is an abusive drunkard while Anna's is a con artist, yet neither mother seems able to leave. Soon a complex constellation of adolescent pressures pushes the girls apart. Anna explores a relationship with her older brother's friend, Mattia. Francesca becomes drawn into the vortex of the darker underbelly of Piombina, including fake girlfriends, lascivious older men and degrading behavior. A chance meeting on Corso Italia, however, forces the girls to realize that they belong together. Yet how can they shed the false friends, bad influences and familial troubles? How can they find their way back to each other and the dreams they shared at the beginning of the summer? A beach read for strong-willed, independent souls.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455154616
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/14/2012
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Silvia Avallone is an Italian poet and novelist. This first novel—published in Italy as Acciaio—won second place in the 2010 Premio Strega and rights have been sold in fourteen countries. She is lives in Italy.

Antony Shugaar’s recent translations include A Pimp’s Notes by Giorgio Faletti, The Nun by Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Bandit Love by Massimo Carlotto, and Sandokan by Nanni Balestrini, for which he received an NEA translation fellowship. He lives with his family in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 17, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone ISBN: 9780670023585 Diff

    Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone
    ISBN: 9780670023585
    Difficult to find translations for the Italian phrases but you can get the gist of what's being said. This takes place in an Italian city. The slums, housing projects and the beach the children swim in is full of sewer. All the people that live there work at the steel mills.
    This is a difficult time in the girls lifes as they become teens and adults in the poverty of the Italian community.
    Anna and Francesca live in Piombiono, Italy and heading into teenagers who are waiting to experience what life has to offer them.
    They like to dance nude in front of the bathroom window where others can watch them. They allow the boys to kiss and feel them. They also like to touch one another and have secret places they go to.
    Other boys in the area work at the mill, working with hot iron all day and all night. One day Anna goes with a boy after a roller skating party and lets him do what he wants. She's on birth control now. In the meantime Francesca has been beatten up by her father and her mother won't go to the police.
    Anna's mother has filed papers for divorce but now she wants to stop as her husband has returned, paying off the sons car, a big ring and a kitten for the women, which is exactly what they want. His clothes are also very high class.
    The girls and their brothers and friends grow from teens to adults over the years as they move through sex, drugs, abuse, death, lying, stealing, etc to get where they need to be.
    I found this book hard to read because of the abuse with drugs and sex.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Wow. Swimming to Elba was such a disheartening book. Incredibly

    Wow. Swimming to Elba was such a disheartening book. Incredibly well done, but a difficult read.

    This novel deals with so many overwhelming themes: poverty, drugs, sex, abuse. Whenever I thought some hope may be on the horizon, that hope was dashed. I felt compelled to read on and on, but I had a knot in my stomach the entire time.

    It was an odd reading experience for me. I lived in Italy when I was the same age as Francesca and Anna. Now, I'm around the same as their parents. I thought about my own experiences at their age, having such close, intense friendships, spending summers at the beach, enjoying the free-range kind of liberty that kids enjoy in small Italian towns.

    However, the romanticized Italy of our travel books, television shows, and life abroad is not a complete picture. At one point in the book, Anna's mother very bluntly expresses how she feels about her country. Through their status updates and message board posts, I see glimpses of the frustration and uncertainty my Italian friends have toward their government and the state of their economy. I can tell they are worried about what the future holds for themselves and their children.

    That feeling of disillusionment, common among young Italians, is something 27-year-old Silvia Avallone nailed in this debut novel.

    Her writing is gorgeous in the descriptive, expressive way that is the Italian language. Antony Shugaar did an amazing job with the translation.

    I'm not sure about the ending of the book, though. Something happens that is so graphic and horrific, I was sick to my stomach. When I finished reading the last chapter, I'm not sure if I hadn't gotten over that incident, was still stunned, or what. But I was left thinking, "really? that's it? and now it's over, just like that?"

    You can read an interview with Silvia Avallone at the Penguin Group website. It offers a great deal of insight into her novel.

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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