Alicia EastmanCultureFeaturedPeople

Mattia Signorini

His novels have enjoyed major success all over the world and he has been baptized the “modern Calvino”

«Green the color of his father’s garments when he was enlisted in the army, green the color of the void when he stepped on a mine, green the eyes of the woman who would have nursed him back to health in the hospital and that he later would wed. Green was also the color of the woods».  Green in Italian is “verde”. Green Talbot is the main character’s name in “La sinfonia del tempo breve”, Mattia Signorini’s latest novel. But does “green” really mean “verde,” as any dictionary would seem to suggest? Let us set aside this question so that I may present this story’s main character, Mattia Signorini. A native of Rovigo, at thirty-one the description “up-and-coming author” no longer quite fits the bill. I would rather say that Mattia is an Italian author of, and for, the twenty-first century century in a modern and globalized Italy. With two novels, “Lontano da ogni cosa” (2007) and “La sinfonia del tempo breve” (2009), he first won over the readership in Italy and then abroad, not to mention film producers’ interest in his tales. When I asked him what it feels like to be an ambassador of Italian literature in the world, Mattia Signorini responded: «I don’t feel at all as if I were a literary ambassador. I’m a person that tells stories, and I’ve been lucky enough to have my novels translated abroad. I receive emails from a number of places. Not long ago, an Argentine girl wrote me, “I’m reading your book in the Amazon rain forest”. It’s really true that at times words manage  to travel much farther than human beings». Indeed, Mattia distinguishes himself with his second work, “La sinfonia  del tempo breve”. It is a fantasy whose main character is Green Talbot, resident of the tiny town of “Tranquillity” where all is as it should be and the exception to the rule doesn’t exist, and where  he alone begins thinking outside the box. Once on the path leading out of the village, we follow him on an odyssey full of encounters with characters some realistic and some fantastical, cartoonish à la Roger Rabbit. Simple and plain, he shows a seemingly innate perseverance, and learns how to stay afloat in a harsh world. His true strength derives from his being a “sponge” of desires and emotions held by those around him, ready with open arms to any that cross his path. Empathy, embodied in the character and enacted in the reading process itself, is the author’s best used tool. Green is a symbol of hope that lights the way in dark times and among the shadows that cast themselves even into the start of this century. Probing for info, I discover that the novel and Green have a complex origin in the author’s ideology. «I have the impression that individualism has reached extreme heights. – says Mattia – It’s not about seeking well-being anymore, but about grasping desperately to obtain anything for oneself, whatever the price. I feel our society is unhappy for this reason. Spiritual goods – getting to know people, spending time together – are breaking down». But how did he come to be so well known at just thirty years old? It all began with “Lontano da ogni cosa”. It was immediately evident that its author was not merely a young man with a gift for writing, but a true storyteller. The novel’s plot, which has already been dubbed “generational” by various newspapers, traces the stories of three young people who, through separation and reunion, are always bound by the deep tie of friendship, a recurring theme in all of Signorini’s writing. To return to consideration of the words “green” and “verde”, “green” in the Anglo-Saxon world connotes fertility and nature. But in Italy, “verde” bears a strong connotation of hope.   I discovered this after years of living in Italy. It was Christmas 2009, and I was at the hair stylist, who had decorated a wondrous Christmas tree, decked out in green and gold. When I complimented the décor, he responded, «Seeing the crisis, gold for plenty, and green for hope». At that instant I truly discovered for the first time the word “verde.” Too often the word “crisis” blackens our language, our media and our artwork. Books like those of Mattia Signorini bear witness to our need today to hear a voice with a shimmering vein of “verde”. His novels have enjoyed major success in France, Germany, Israel, South America, and in Spain, where even Elena Ramirez, the editorial director of Seix-Barral (which in Spain publishes Roth, DeLillo and Franzen) has baptized him the “modern Calvino”. But Italy, too, is in need of figures in which to invest new hopes, on all fronts, after a considerably rough 2011, and not just in politics. In 2010, Signorini ranked among the top three finalists of the “Tropea Literary Awards”, alongside with Alicia Jimenez-Bartlett and   Gad Lerner. Who took the stage in the end? An incredulous Mattia, who hadn’t even prepared a speech, having been so convinced that one of the others would  have walked away with the title. It was a groundbreaking accomplishment. Describing his writing, Calvino from “Six Memos for the Next Millennium” said, «[…] my working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language». Calvino’s description also perfectly defines Mattia’s weightless prose. In the first half of this year, particularly on Italian television, and in the wake of the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy there was much talk regarding the decrepit state of our culture due to heavy funding cuts. And yet, the outstanding talents in our country are many. I sometimes  wonder whether it isn’t talent Italy lacks, but rather a curiosity and a desire to discover those around us. Mattia Signorini  leads us to an inner dimension – one that offers a thousand emotional colors. All you have to do is read, and the future takes on a hopeful green hue.

What was your experience of New York like?

I was 17 and I experienced it as a teenager that came from a small town. The only thing I felt was disorientation.

I wasn’t able make out the outlines, I wasn’t sure how I should get around. I remember that they took a picture of me, and then I turned around and said, “What is this place?”. I was looking at the Twin Towers. A skyscraper the top of which the eye didn’t reach. When I think about it, a shiver still runs down my spine – because as a boy, it represented Mankind’s reaching higher than the sky itself. It was 1998.

“And so it was that Green Talbot got his first glimpse of the outside world, a world that fascinated him so much that he couldn’t shut his eyes. Then a gnat landed smack dab in the middle of his pupil and he felt such strong pain that he squeezed his eyelids shut, and couldn’t see anything. He soon learned that every wonderful thing brings some inconvenience with it”.

“Many mornings after, he caught sight of America. It was an expanse of land that spread out in place of the horizon. He was on the bridge, at the first sunlight, wakened by the sailors that set to work. He stayed there gazing for a good piece, without turning away. It seemed as if it never grew closer. Hours passed and the horizon of land stayed put, as if it was constantly moving backwards”.

“The best place to live if you haven’t seen any other.” This was what his father had told him about America. Green Talbot wasn’t even five years old at the time. He had also happened to listen in on two customers at Palomar Amirante’s inn. “A place full of poor devils.” “Sure” said the other. “But if you haven’t ever been there, it’s as if you haven’t ever been anywhere”.

Alicia Eastman

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