The day before Happiness by Erri De Luca

 

 

The day before Happiness by Erri De Luca

Italian fiction

Original title – Il giorno prima della felicità

Translator – Jill Foulston

Source – personal copy

Another of the books I recently brought on holiday. There was something about this cover the cheekiness of the boy on the cover and it is a coming of age story. Which I really enjoy. Erri De Luca is a well-known writer in Italy but not in English so far.  He has been writing since his twenties but wasn’t till later in life he got his first book published. Since then he has published over seventy books, had them translated into a number of languages. He has also translated a number of books into Italian from Hebrew as a self-taught translator. He is also a keen climber and has been active in the opposition to a rail line between Turin and Lyon. He grew up in Naples.

I went to the school. My adoptive mother enrolled me, but I never saw her. The porter, Don Gaetano, looked after me. In the evenings , he’d bring me a hot meal, and in the morning before scholol, I’d take back the clean plate while he warmed me a mug of milk. I lived in a little room, the Sstanzino, by myself Don Gaetano hardly spoke at all. He’d grown up as an orphan too, but in an orphanage, unlike me. I was free t come and go in our building and around the city

Intially Don Gaetano says little but as the book goes pon he opens up to the young boy.

This is a story of a childhood in Naples told through the eyes of young Orphan. He is living with his adoptive family. But as it is said early on they are rarely there for him and he is mainly looked after by Don Gaetano he is the elderly caretaker of the blog of flats where the young boy lives. He starts of trying to fit in by first rescuing a ball and trying to join in with a game of football with the older boys but he never fits in. But he catches a glimpse of pretty girl via reflections in the window this is a sign of an early sexual awakening in the boy. later he meets an older woman. He also discovers books reading a book a day during the summer holidays he borrows from a shop. He also learns the city via the older man telling him of the Naples he knew during and before the war also how he hid a jew during the war.

Don Gaetano missed nature as he’d known it in Argentina. On the plains where herds grazed freely, lighting struck to the rhythm of the tarantella, and the earth was the sky’s dance fllor.”It was normal to be an orphan there. Everyone was, animals and men alike kn the plains ias vast as the ocean. Theives defrocked priests, anarchists, the Irish.. Argentina lifted the wieght off your heart and gave you back all the spaceyou could ever want.

The old man spent time in Argentina and opens the boys eyes with tales he tells him making him see beyond the city at times.

This is a short novella it is just over a hundred pages and like most great novellas it seems so much more. This is the story of a boy growing but without his parents, Don Gaetano does his best to help the boy. The relationship between the two brought to mind to me the relationship between Salvatore and Alfredo in Cinema Paradiso. Like that film, there is also so a large character of the Place her in this book it is Naples that city of the Southern Italy that at one point the narrator says is more like a Spanish city. This book came out of course after the success of the Neopolitan novels of Elena Ferrante. Erri De Luca has been around longer than Ferrante but it is good to see as a knock on of the \Ferrante novels other books set in Naples have been published.

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