This is an archived issue of Belletrista. If you are looking for the current issue, you can find it here
Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


by Valeria Parrella
Translated from the Italian by Anthony Shugaar
Reviewed by Joyce Nickel

Forget everything you think about Italy. Forget restored 15th-century farmhouses; forget hunting for truffles in autumn; and forget friendly neighbours dropping by with bottles of Chianti and olive oil. In For Grace Received, Valeria Parrella takes you to the real Italy: vibrant, chaotic, and completely modern. This collection of four novellas follows three women and one man navigating life in Naples, a city that Parrella describes as having "all the problems of Italy, [but] bigger and faster!" In this Italy, the middle and upper classes mix with the criminal classes in their day-to-day lives. Reading these stories is like taking a walk through the streets of Naples where you never know exactly where you're heading or who you'll meet around the next corner. Parrella's twenty-first-century characters send text messages, wear stiletto heels, and get tattoos. In For Grace Received, there is no whiff of nostalgia for the imaginary simple past.

English-language readers have been fascinated with Italy since the Middle Ages, through Shakespeare's times and the era of the Grand Tour. The love affair escalated with the growth of the railways, which opened up leisure travel to those who were not members of the nobility. Readers and moviegoers are still swept away by the Italy of E.M. Forster's Room With a View (1908) and Elizabeth von Arnim's The Enchanted April (1922). These books, along with recent bestsellers such as Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun, have sold their fans on a dream Italy. Here, life is full of art, opera, and lazy sun-drenched afternoons, and the Italians are charming, carefree people who will Teach You Lessons. However, after marrying into a Tuscan family and making four trips to Italy, I can confidently say that the Italy sold to the English-speaking market is a fantasy world that exists only in the authors' imaginations. For the reader who is ready to leave that false world behind and venture into a darker, more perilous — and yes, more authentic — Italy, let Valeria Parrella show you the way.

*Valeria Parrella in an interview with Leonard Lopate, WNYC, September 2009