A stunning classic set in Italy's most vibrant and turbulent metropolis - Naples - in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. These lively and superbly written stories helped inspire Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels. Ortese's work was also championed by Italo Calvino, who was her Italian editor. The stories and reportage collected in this volume form a powerful portrait of ordinary lives, both high and low, family dramas, love affairs, and struggles to pay the rent, set against the crumbling courtyards of the city itself, and the dramatic landscape of Naples Bay. This classic is exquisitely rendered in English by Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee, two of the leading translators working from Italian today. Included in the collection is 'A Pair of Eyeglasses', one of the most widely praised Italian short stories of the last century.
Anna Maria Ortese was born in Rome on June 13, 1914, second youngest of six siblings in a family of "no social distinction," as she would later say. Her father, Oreste, a Sicilian of Catalan origins (the last name: Ortez was Italianized as Ortese) was an employee of the Italian Government, and the Ortese family moved quite frequently, as her father was posted in various parts of Italy. Continuous relocation and the acute awareness of her family's poverty left an indelible mark on Ortese's childhood and on the rest of her life. It made her feel, from the very beginning, almost a stranger to her own homeland and society, a sentiment that would later be reflected in her peculiar choices of themes and original writing style in her fiction. The death of her favorite brother, Emanuele, marked the beginning both of her literary career (debuting in 1933 in "La fiera letteraria" with a series of poems including Manuele, followed by a collection of short stories in 1937: Angelici dolori) and of the disintegration of her family. Another brother, also a sailor, would die in Albania. The remaining two emigrated to Australia and Canada. The death of her parents in 1950 and 1952 left Anna Maria and her sister the only vestige of the original family. Anna Maria, following her profession as a reporter, started moving restlessly around Italy. She was also constantly haunted by financial problems and was forced to continue working as a journalist even as she wrote her short stories and novels. Between 1950 and 1970 she lived for long periods in Milan and Rome, and in 1975 she finally settled in Rapallo (Liguria). In 1986, thanks to, among other things, a life annuity granted her through the Bacchelli Law, she was able to buy a condominium in Rapallo. She died in 1998. Although Anna Maria Ortese was the recipient of numerous literary prizes (Premio Viareggio in 1953 for Il mare non bagna Napoli, Premio Strega in 1967 for Poveri e semplici, Premio Procida-Elsa Morante in 1988 for In sonno e in veglia, Prix de meilleur livre étranger in 1998 for the French edition of Il Cardillo addolorato, to mention but a few of the most prestigious) her relationship with literary critics was always difficult. During the many years of her writing career, Anna Maria Ortese was loved, hated and many times forgotten. Her work finally achieving widespread recognition and acclaim only towards the end of her life and mostly after her death. This is partly attributable to the difficulty, encountered by critics, to define her position within the literary canon.