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Andrea Camilleri. Nadia Terranova, writer: “He encompassed everything, literature as well as civic conscience”

“To me he was also a compass that helped me understand current events. His was a voice of common sense, always powerful and authoritative. Italian writer Nadia Terranova, among the five finalists of the 2019 Strega Prize, contacted by SIR, speaks of Andrea Camilleri on the day of his death.

Irony and prestige, great literary stature and civic conscience. He invented a language that mixes Italian and Sicilian dialect, with a respectful and admiring gaze towards women. Thus Nadia Terranova, Italian writer from the city of Messina, author of the book “Addio fantasmi” (Einaudi), among the five finalists of the Strega Literary Prize, spoke of the great writer Andrea Camilleri, who died this morning at Rome’s Santo Spirito Hospital. Born in Porto Empedocle (Agrigento) in 1925, he would have turned 94 on September 6. Camilleri has written over 100 books, including 27 novels, featuring the character of Inspector Salvo Montalbano (hence the famous television series), that sold 31 million copies worldwide. He began his career as a film director, screenwriter, theatre and television author, culminated in writing fiction. Literary success only arrived at a late age, and it continued since, despite his blindness. Until today. The moving memories of a writer, a woman who is also Sicilian.

Nadia Terranova

The death of Andrea Camilleri is a great loss for the literary world and for society. Which memories of this great writer do you cherish the most?
His irony and his authoritativeness. I never met him in person but I followed him closely through his books, I heard him speak in public events. I remember that one summer, soon after Montalbano’s publishing phenomenon,  I put together all of his first novels to read them one after the other. I was in my early twenties and it felt like spending the whole summer in the fictional town of Vigata. Of that summer I don’t remember the Conero seashore, where I was spending my vacation, but the sea of Vigata. It also served as

a compass to understand current events. He was a voice of common sense, always deeply respected and powerful.

Has he acted as a civic conscience in an ever-embittered society?

He did, and he did so resolutely, but never agressively. It was obvious that he did not consider his opponent an enemy but someone to be vehemently challenged with words, always in a civilized manner. Everyone could reflect themselves not only in the contents but also in the style.

He encompassed everything: literature and civic conscience.  

This is rather extraordinary. He had a great talent for storytelling that clearly emerged in the stories he wrote and the things he said.

His narrative skills were truly impressive. It was as if he had a magic hat from which he would draw out ever unique stories.

The wonderful thing about Camilleri is that it takes a lifetime to read all of his work. From a writer’s perspective, there is also a slight envy for the quantity of books written, all of them preserving a very high quality, ranging from the most diverse genres, from fairy tales to plays. How could he write so much and so well? Most prolific writers lower quality from time to time. But Camilleri, like Simenon, is one of those authors that no matter which of his books you select ,it’s always the best option.

He was a complete writer. Many of his books depict historical events and classical culture in Sicily. He continued to write and did not retreat to private life despite his blindness.
In fact now whenever we will think about Tiresias we will think of him.

Camilleri will be recorded in the history of literature also for having invented an idiom, “Vigatese”, a mixture of Italian and Sicilian dialect.
I was always impressed by the fact that all over Italy, in Veneto, in Lombardy, in Piedmont, people who didn’t know a word of the Sicilian dialect understood “Camillerese” perfectly. Readers from all over Italy engage in that language with great ease. He used to say that he was restoring the language of his grandparents – but there was also a lot of inventiveness, as with families. In my home, for example, my family spoke a combination of dialect and invented terms. From that mixture he created his own language and he brilliantly inserted it into his written works, without trivializing it but creating the tools to make it understood by all readers, whichever region they came from.

Anyone can guess the meaning of terms like “ralogio”. Paradoxically his readership is all on an equal footing – whether or not Sicilian.

A person from Palermo might understand the meaning of the term “taliare” but there are many variations of the same term also in Sicily. Wherever the reader comes from, he or she enters the page and becomes a local inhabitant of Vigata.

What do you think about Camilleri’s irony, the subtle thread that binds together all of his books?

It’s simply beautiful. I remember a scene from a Montalbano story in which a female character pulls in her stomach in order to enter the elevator and then releases it when she gets out. I couldn’t help laughing out loud at the thought of this woman assuming the cubic shape of the elevator. It reminded me of the stories by Achille Campanile.

His occasionally ironic and hilarious prose prompted laughter, even when he addressed the most serious topical issues.

A great love and respect for feminine beauty also emerges from his written works.
In fact he had the gaze of a 20th century male from Southern Italy. A gaze that deeply admired, respected and was intrigued by the feminine gender. Hence the continuous tributes and a constant admission of being subjected to women’s power. Unfortunately, that kind of man is now anthropologically on the verge of extinction.

Even though it’s an extremely difficult choice, which of his books did you enjoy the most?
I am also very fond of Inspector Montalbano, and “August heat” is one of my favourites. In this novel Camilleri describes detective Montalbano in his fifties, “cinquantino”. I read it at a time when turning 50 was a long time away. I remember that I perfectly understood this male mid-life crisis. I find it one of the most successful in the Montalbano series.

It seems that years ago Camilleri handed over “Riccardino”, the last novel on Montalbano , to his publishing house, to be published after his death.

There is much talk about this. We shall see. But I would have preferred to never read it.

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