GENRE Short Stories, LANGUAGE Italian
Review by Shaun Whiteside
ANNA FELDER was born in 1937 in Lugano. She studied at the Faculty of Arts at Zürich University, where she specialised in Romance languages. After spending some time in Paris, she gained her doctorate from Zürich. She taught French and Italian and now works as a writer. One of her major successes is La disdetta (1974), a novel which Italo Calvino himself found fascinating.
PHOTO © Yvonne Böhler
This collection of snapshots of Swiss life comprises shape-shifting fragments of ambiguous narrative and tiny epiphanies. It’s boldly experimental, linguistically playful and often elusive, while also succeeding in conjuring up an ironic and sometimes surreal sense of wonder. These stories, almost prose poems, have the sharpness and vigour of a writer highly confident in her art.
In this dazzling collection of short stories, Anna Felder homes in on the tiny details of daily lives, magnifying, probing and recasting until all meaning becomes uncertain. Her theme is liquidity in all its forms, from the literal nature of water, through the extended financial use of the term, to the fluidity of meaning and communication. Narratives here are mercurial and turn suddenly on a word. A train speeding through the Swiss countryside observes its passengers as it passes through Science on its way to Pretence, its passengers in turn observing one another. A child stamps on a fallen chestnut and catches the narrator’s eye, uncertain whether it has just broken some unwritten rule. Two speakers at the end of a public discussion use a water bottle as an ash-tray: the ashes mingle with the dregs of water at the bottom, half-ash, half-liquid. An Italian couple talk at cross purposes on a day of hail and sunshine. A woman at a reading by the narrator hears a completely different story from the one the author intended. A woman on a train drinks raspberry syrup – or is it Merlot?
After a career stretching back to the 1960s, Anna Felder’s experimental brilliance remains undimmed. The translator of these quietly startling little fragments will face the challenge of reinvention, to set the new text entirely in accord with the permeating theme of liquidity – of richness and flow, of constant shifts and uncertain depths beneath the shimmering, glittering surface.
PUBLISHER Edizioni Opera Nuova, Lugano
PUBLICATION DATE February 2017
TRANSLATION RIGHTS Luca Cignetti, firstname.lastname@example.org
« There’s a thread which runs through her stories, a kind of Chekovian melancholy, as if passed through the hands of Katherine Mansfield, perhaps. Almost nothing of moment happens in these stories: what sustains her prose is a consuming tension concerning the ‘other’, the gestures, the words and the tiniest distinguishing marks that make up a person. » GIOVANNI ORELLI
Shaun Whiteside is a literary translator from German, French, Dutch and Italian. His latest translations include Blitzed by Norman Ohler and Lea by the Swiss author Pascal Mercier.