Articles by: Daniela Enriquez

  • Rakesh Satyal – Senior Editor at Atria Books and author Paolo Cognetti with the translator for the event.
    Art & Culture

    The Strega Prize Goes to the Mountains

    Cognetti’s book is having worldwide success, and has already been translated into 38 languages. Throughout the evening, and Satyal’s questioning, we gradually became acquainted with Paolo Cognetti and the reasons for the intensity of his latest book.

    Let’s start from the beginning!

    The Eight Mountains – following a very contemporary Italian tradition made famous by Elena Ferrante – tells the story of a friendship between two young children – Pietro and Bruno – that endures despite the differences of their upbringing and of the paths their lives take. And Cognetti’s book has a surprising third character: the Mountain. Far from being only a background element, the mountain reveals itself as the real protagonist of the story: it binds together the lives of all the other characters, is has a special relationship with both Pietro and Bruno, and like a real character it changes throughout the course of the story. This book was meant to be a short story – a genre the author had previously experimented with – but, as he says, it expanded of its own accord. 

    Cognetti - whose physical appearance evokes a modern “mountaineer pirate” with his untamed red beard and two earrings in the left ear – explained that the Italian literary tradition is mainly urban, full of novels and stories set in cities. That’s why, in fact, he found inspiration for his book overseas, with American authors like Jack London, Melville and Hemingway, who are masters of the natural landscape tradition in literature. In the book, the Alps fill the role of the frontier, the great North of the American tradition. As Giulia Prati said during her introductory speech, despite the fact that Italy has an elongated shape  and is surrounded by the sea, the mountains have been very important in its history: just think about their role during WWI and WWII. The Alps and the Himalayas are the protagonists of this novel, as well as two themes in the life of the writer: Cognetti lives between an apartment in Milan and a cabin 6,000 feet high in the mountains, and he has travelled several times to the Himalayas.

    Other influences behind this book include Two of Two by Andrea De Carlo, The Chosen by Chaim Potok, Lessico Familiare by Natalia Ginzburg and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Cognetti admitted that when he was a child he felt like a modern Tom Sawyer – a middle class educated kid – in search of his Huckleberry Finn. 

    The author shared the motives behind the choice of his title: The Eight Mountains. Throughout the time he was writing the book, he found himself “harassed” by the number eight. Before becoming a writer, Cognetti studied mathematics, and he has always been engaged with numbers. Therefore, he felt compelled to find a meaning behind the number eight, and behind the title of the book. He decided to interrogate the modern oracle, Google, which immediately linked this number to Buddhism and the Himalayas. 

    Before the end of the event, and the buffet generously offered by New Academia Publishing, Cognetti answered the crucial question about the worldwide success of his book. So here it is, according to him: friendship is a primordial and universal theme that everybody in the world experiences, and the fact that this particular friendship is set in the Alps – which have a central position in Europe – helped the book to become a sensation in Italy and abroad.

  • From the left: R. Roger Remington, Professor of Graphic Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology; Emanuele Amendola, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in DC and Professor Elisabetta d’Amanda also from the Rochester Institute of Technology
    Art & Culture

    The Vignelli Legacy

    Both the lecture and the video were priceless fonts of information that allowed the audience not only to learn about the Vignellis’ contribution to the development of design worldwide, but also, and most importantly, to better understand the couple through the telling of stories and anecdotes about their social and private life. Did you know, for example that Massimo Vignelli designed all the signage and maps for the iconic  New York City and Washington, D.C. subway systems? And what about the brochures you get at each of America’s National Parks? Yep! Also a Vignelli design. The video was introduced by Renato Miracco – previous Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in New York City and Washington, D.C. – who gave a heartfelt speech recollecting his friendship with the Vignellis.

    Thanks to the words of Professor Remington, we learned that Massimo Vignelli was heavily influenced in the early years of his career by the Swiss designers – and gained from them a love for the Helvetica font, which he preferred above all others. A slide show helped illuminate the lives of the Vignelli’s from their wedding, to their daily life in New York City, to their frequent trips to Italy. Other intereting anecdotes abounded. When Massimo was asked by Ms. Airos why he decided to leave Italy for American, Massimo answered that he left a provincial place because of his hatred for provincialism!

    Attendees at the Embassy came away with an understanding of the interconnection, and compensatory balance, that characterized the Vignelli’s relationship to one another. While Massimo was the king of graphic design, Lella elevated him by critiquing his work and making it far better. On the other hand, she was the queen of furniture and jewelry design. Together, they worked on many projects: from packaging design, to interior design, to corporate works. 

    What emerged from the lecture was also a sense of the profound love between Massimo and Lella. It was a love which often made Massimo so annoyed by the lack of recognition for Lella’s work that he would hide from her all of the newspaper accolades that failed to add her name when discussing the works they did together. Also of note: Lella was the pragmatic side of the couple, the one who would stay home taking care of the bookkeeping while Massimo may have been out at some event in the city. 

    What characterizes the Vignelli’s design was their goal, which, as Massimo articulated it in the video interview, was to use design to bring elegance to the masses. Clear examples of this include the brochures for the U.S. National Parks, as well as the design for a number of modern newspapers. Massimo was convinced that design could be applied to everything, and make everything better: even a newspaper could be transformed from something people throw away to a piece of art when the information is easy to find. According to Massimo, the major folly of modern advertising is that it gives people what they want: the Vignelli approach is, instead, always to give people what they need rather than what they wanted. That could on occasion cause them some problems and misunderstandings but, most of the time, was a very successful approach which Massimo compared to Steve Jobs’ design role at Apple. 

    The evening ended with some Italian focaccia and cheese, accompanied by a very good Nero D’Avola. During the post-presentation mingling, attendees could admire both the photo exhibition, as well as the famous interview chairs which the Vignellis designed in the 80s for TG2 – one of the main Italian news channels.

    The exhibit will be on view until April 29, and if you happen to be in Washington, D.C. is something you shouldn’t miss!

    For more info on the exhibit please click here >>

  • Amy's Story - the new book by Anna Lawton
    Facts & Stories

    D.C. Book Night: Anna Lawton Talks About “Amy’s Story”

    After schmoozing for a good half an hour, the crowd took a seat and silently prepared to listen to a conversation between Anna Lawton and Lucia Wolf, Librarian and Italian Specialist at the Library of Congress. A conversation between a librarian and an author promised to be very interesting and the public was all ears!

    We immediately learned that the background of Amy’s Story is a friendship between two women, which started from childhood and continued through adulthood. If that reminds you of another famous novel that recently had major success in Italy as well as in the States, I can assure you that the plot is very different. Even though the author admitted that some veiled references to Elena Ferrante are to be found in the novel, the friendship in Lawton’s book is only the pretext for a more peculiar and intriguing story: Amy’s? Not, at all. Stella’s story that her friend Amy, a publisher, finds written in a manuscript and decides to publish.

    The story is set between Italy and the United States, in particular New York and California, covering a period ranging from the early 60’s through 2011. Thanks to a very complex structure that is composed by a frame – Amy’s attempt to publish the manuscript – and the real plot – Stella’s memoir and story which narrates her life experience in the US – the author brings to life a rainbow of characters and adventures that the reader won’t soon forget.

    Questioned on why she decided to create such a complex structure, Lawton answered that this is the only way she can write. A literal, chronological narration, from past to present, is not her style. Although in her first novel – Album di famiglia – the events happen more chronologically, this time the author decided to play more with her readers and to bring them from present to past and from that to a more remote time (in the novel we find a flashback to the 1920’s).

    The two questions everybody was wondering about followed. First of all, Ms. Wolf asked if the story was autobiographical. Some of the people in the public knew the author and part of her life, and found suspicious the fact that she indeed lived and taught for years in California. But our investigative curiosity was appeased when Anna answered that the book was not about her life, and not autobiographical. Nevertheless, she admitted the need of a connection with something real in order to invent a story or a character, and so some of the ideas present in the book indeed have roots in real events and people.

    The other object of curiosity regarded Lawton’s literary inspirations, both shaping her career and this book in specific. Without any hesitation she named three Italian authors: Elsa Morante, Dacia Maraini and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. However Ms. Lawton also told the public that another art form that deeply influenced her was cinema. The book in fact is full of cinematographic elements:  close ups, long shoots and it also has a soundtrack, songs that help the reader fall into the atmosphere of various times being narrated.

    To conclude the evening, Lawton read a few pages of the book taken from the 1920s’ flashback narrating the story of an Italian family headed to the USA during the first wave of immigration. It is always a gift to be able to hear an author reading his/her own book, so everybody listened with much attention, following the adventure of these immigrants from the beloved motherland to the new world and – in the process – we all started to think about our own immigration story and how different but at the same time how similar it seemed.

    More talking, food and drinks followed the event and, most importantly, the book signing to which the author submitted herself with cheer and patience.

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    Contact the author: [email protected]