Monday, May 16, 2011

Valeria Parrella- For Grace Received

So I've finally gotten around to reading Valeria Parrella, whom I'd been meaning to check out for at least a year now. The difficulty always comes in obtaining materials in Italian. This time I went ahead and read the translation (which I hate to do), but fortunately it was a good translation (by Antony Shugaar, an author himself). The book is published in the States by Europa, which puts out a number of foreign authors in English.

Parrella is a Neapolitan woman (born in Torre del Greco, actually) who has become an established author and actress. The book For Grace Received grabbed me immediately, which is generally not the case with contemporary literature. It is a slim collection of four short stories, but it speaks the proverbial volumes about Naples today. Which is pretty much like Naples yesterday; possibly worse. For example, the old cigarette contraband has given way to drug dealing.

Her work is engaging both because it exudes realness and because she is a skilled storyteller. The overall semi-hideous portrayal of Naples is lightened by black humor, as when illegal printers refer to the overflowing number of books they have around the shop as "Anne Franks," or when a man tells his refined, bourgeois married lover that her four-year-old daughter is probably already a drug runner for the Camorra, and wishes that she was still in diapers, because diapers come in handy for drug dealing.

Not all of the situations are specific to Naples, or the South. The story that gives the collection its title refers to the fact that the protagonist's mother lights a candle in church to thank the saints or whoever that her daughter (a summa cum laude grad) got a job in a shop, a job with benefits. Unemployment, underemployment and exploitation of the young is rampant in Italy. To top it off, our highly educated sales clerk is visited one day by her professor and thesis adviser, who had ripped off the second part of her thesis and published it under her own (the professor's) name. This, too, happens in Italy.

To sum up, Parrella seems to share the bitter opinion of her fellow Neapolitan, the great actor and playwright Edoardo De Filippo. In reference to the native city he knew so well and described in his works, he had one word to say: fujitevenne. Meaning "get the hell out." As he said this decades ago, Parrella's update on the situation of that beautiful city bears him out.