Thursday, March 10, 2011

Winner of The Premio Strega for The Solitude of Prime Numbers is Coming from Italy to Read at Boswell on April Italian.

One of the things I’ve noticed about our event planning is that themed events will converge together periodically. For example, I noticed that in late March/early April, we had three Italian-themed events. On March 31 at Boswell, 7 pm, we’re hosting Lawrence Baldassaro, author of Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball. On April 5, the guest speaker at Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library Literary Luncheon at the Woman's Club of Wisconsin (which we co-sponsor, and note that this event is ticketed) is Donna Leon, author of the beloved Venice-set mysteries, the newest of which is Drawing Conclusions. And on April 6, we’re hosting Paolo Giordano for the paperback release of The Solitude of Prime Numbers.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers is not just any Italian novel. It won the Strega Prize (Premio Strega), the most prestigious award in Italy, awarded since 1947. Sadly, many of these novels are not well known to Americans. In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to name many Italian authors of the last century beyond Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino. In fact, several Italian authors have won the Nobel prize, most recently Dario Fo in 1997.

I was intrigued by the book, which I meant to read in hardcover (sigh). There were comparisons to Mark Haddon and that intrigued me. I think back on the book as a fascinating story told through the eyes of an autistic child, but when prompted, remembered that one of the things about the book that first hooked me was that the chapters were in Fibonacci sequence.

And what mathematical metaphor is more appropriate for sad and lonely people than prime numbers, divisible only by one and themselves? Alice Della Rocha and Mattia Balossini in Giordano’s novel are twin primes, pairs of primes that are only two apart (like 17 and 19), with just an even number between them. Like primes, they become increasingly rare, but also like primes, it is conjectured that there is an infinite number of them*

Alice is crippled by a childhood accident, and her body image issues have led to serious eating disorders. Mattia has a childhood secret regarding his twin sister, and this has led him to be unable to excel in anything except his studies. Both characters are quite memorable and the story is filled with sparkling moments. I don’t exactly know what this means, but it seems to have a modern Italian esthetic about it.

And I know you’re asking, and yes, now that I've read and enjoyed Giordano's novel, I would absolutely recommend it to readers of The Elegance of a Hedgehog.

So I was speaking to Sonya at Penguin, and she told me that while the author is well-versed in English and would love to take questions, he prefers to read in Italian. Well, I saw this an opportunity. I’d already been talking to Paul Salsini and Bobby Tanzilo (the latter of about co-sponsoring the event with the Italian Film Festival, and I thought they’d be able to find the English reader (which I thought would be Bobby or Paul). But no! They led me to writer Angela Damiani, a Milwaukee writer and blogger.

Mr. Tanzilo has informed me that there is a pent-up demand for readings in Italian by Italian natives. Hope we’re able to get the word out to this group hungry for the native tongue. I fondly remember the talk for Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie, where the author read in French. I also believe we had at least one speaker who read in Spanish. I’m guessing it was Arturo Perez-Reverte. Feel free to correct me.

So you ask, what about this Italian Film Festival? It’s a national program run out of Saint Louis with ten stops, starting with Minneapolis on March 25th, and moving through Memphis, Denver, and beyond. Get all the details on their website.

I had made a suggestion to show the film version of The Solitude of Prime Numbers, but any project with a film component has been very difficult for me to put together. I also wanted to somehow show a film in collaboration with Robert Elder’s The Film That Changed My Life, to no avail. And then there is Patrick McGilligan’s upcoming biography of Nicholas Ray. And last fall we had Nathan Rabin’s My Year of Flops. Honestly, I’ve hit a brick wall here. Help me out!

I guess reviewers were quite mixed on this film, which did the round of film festivals. But in The Back Row blog of Toronto Film Festival, Tom Hall champions this film: “It is heartening to see a filmmaker in his early 30’s taking on big ideas with delicious visual bravura that still makes way for powerful performances.” Read the rest of his piece here.

So to sum up, Paolo Giordano appears on Wednesday, April 6, 7 pm, reading in Italian from his novel The Solitude of Prime Numbers, with an English reading by Angela Damiani, with a discussion and signing, and all co-sponsored by the the Milwaukee run of Italian Film Festival. The paperback comes out on March 29th, but that's only a week before our event, so I decided to get this post out early and make sure that every Italo-phile in the metro area knows about this very, very special event. Did I mention that Mr. Giordano is also a physicist?

*One of the few proofs I am still able to do is prove that there are an infinite number of primes. My only regret with The Solitude of Prime Numbers was that, with the promise of the title, that there wasn’t a wee bit more number theory. I was happy that Mattia sorted out the issue of zeros in the Riemann zeta function, however.

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