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Interview with Dacia Maraini

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Why translate a book from the 1960s?

Since my first reading of it twenty years ago, I wished to share this collection with non-speakers of Italian because it gives a very realistic image of Italy in those times; it’s entertaining and also offers important cultural experience. As Dacia Maraini’s reputation grew internationally, I thought it might be picked up by other translators. I am glad it was not, because the translation gave me the possibility to enter organically into Italian and English, my favourite languages. Most of Maraini’s other fifty or so works have been translated. This collection of short stories is excellent for quick reading, or for studying in a literature course. Although several of the stories address the problem of the search for individual identity, they are varied and very accessible to most readers. Maraini’s style makes it easy to identify with the characters, even though they are of another time and of another culture.

Why would a reader pick up a book that deals with the 1960s?

Precisely for that reason: the 1960s were an enormously colourful decade for young people in most of the West. And in a way, we are still very much children of those times which encouraged people to take an active role in social issues. This collection of stories speaks of deplorable social conditions and its author through irony, and in no uncertain terms, advocates the great need for change. In the early ’60s Italian and much of European society still adhered to religious principles without overtly or vocally presenting alternatives. After the mid-sixties, all this changed, because people hungered for new and diverse life experiences; that word, “liberation,” came back to be part of everyday vocabulary, especially for people 30 and under. This collection features strikes, demonstrations, free love, ménages-<‘a>-trois, sex outside of marriage, illegal abortions, and coming out. Reading these stories helps us better understand where we have come from.

So this is a book anyone could enjoy.

Everyone, absolutely. We’ll be reminded how strict and demanding our parents were in the 1960s. There’s the story that prefigures phone sex in which telephone operators meet men while answering calls. There’s the rape of the woman with two lives - with a twist. Some of the stories deal with gay loves. Perhaps every woman should have a copy by her night table to read passages to her husband at bedtime.

Did you find doing the translation difficult?

Translating is a fine art; in Italy we say “traduttore, traditore” which means that the translator is a traitor. But I have strived to conserve the original meaning and the spirit of irony that throughout motivates Maraini. She can be very elegant because she has a great respect for language, and I have a great respect for her use of it.