And speaking of Italy:

In preparation for my stay in Italy this semester, I read, a few months ago, Alessandro Manzoni's extraordinary novel "The Betrothed" ("I Promessi Sposi"). [In English, alas -- my Italian is getting good, but it's not that good ...] It's the great 19th-century Italian novel -- every schoolchild reads it, everybody knows it inside and out, and people refer to it with some frequency (among other things, Manzoni's decision to write it using the Tuscan dialect helped to establish that as the modern Italian language). It's a remarkable book -- I can't recommend it highly enough. [I read the Penguin edition, translated by Bruce Penman; while I can't speak for the fidelity of the translation, the English prose was supple and very powerful]. Manzoni's descriptions of life in the 17th century -- the plague sweeping through the country, bread riots in Milan, the relationship between peasants and the Church and local and distant royalty -- are simply overpowering; I don't think I will ever be able to think about those subjects, or a dozen others touched upon in the book, without recalling his descriptions. It's a little bit like he was writing the Dickensian novel before Dickens was Dickens. Very few Americans have ever heard of it, let along read it; but if your taste runs to things like, say, "Great Expectations," or George Eliot's "Middlemarch," or Hardy's "Return of the Native," you will thank me for pointing you in this direction.

Postchaise (mail):
Agreed! The Betrothed is also splendid for anyone who loves Don Quixote. Like Cervantes, Manzoni enjoys the repartee with his supposed sources, the previous narrators of the story. Sometimes he notes their disagreement, and sometimes he pretends to correct them or even to protect them by not revealing too much of what they say. It's clever and coy.
4.12.2006 1:31pm
BobH (mail):
OK, I went to Amazon and ordered it on your recommendation. It had better be good!
4.12.2006 3:36pm
Riccardo Schiaffino (mail) (www):

every schoolchild is made to read it... and most hate it. I was fortunate enough to have an intelligent mother, who told me to readit it by myself before being compelled to do it at school, so as to enjoy it and not hate it and finding it boring as dust.

I followed her advice, and she was right: I loved it.

But what they do to it at school is terrible: you read it a little bit at a time, have to write essays on it ("Farewell to the Mountains. While leaving home Lucia looks at the mountains she grew up with: describe her feelings and how they compare to..."): they bleed it completely dry.
4.12.2006 6:15pm