Alessandra Lavagnino

Biography

Alessandra Lavagnino

Alessandra Lavagnino was born in Naples in 1927 and died in 2018. She grew up in Rome where she graduated in Biology. Her postgraduate research was partly carried out in Palermo, where she continued to live, teaching at the University, working on the campaign to eradicate malaria, and becoming Associate Professor of Parasitology. She was married with two children and two grandchildren. Some of her most important writing appeared in the years following her retirement from academic life.

Lavagnino’s earliest literary publications were stories in magazines such as Amica and Nuova Antologia. Her first novella, I lucertoloni, appeared in 1969 after being awarded the Premio Inedito for its unpublished manuscript, and was later translated into English by William Weaver. Una granita di caffè con panna (1974) may be the first account from a woman’s point of view of life in a society dominated by the Mafia. Leonardo Sciascia praised this novella for both exemplifying and bringing to a close the Pirandellian tradition of truth revealed in madness. The book was originally serialised in Amica magazine as La verità e le mosche, and this was the title chosen for its publication in English as Truth and Flies in 2010.

In fiction and non-fiction, Lavagnino’s favoured vehicle is the short novel or long story, and her most distinctive literary preoccupation is silence. She lyrically dramatises the act of not saying in all its wide variety – from a teenager’s debilitating stammer to the divine decree imposed on John the Baptist’s father, metaphors of the silences which continue to haunt Italian society.

Lavagnino’s non-fiction includes three works dealing with insects and their impact on human beings, told in a form she called 'divulgazione raccontata’ [narrated popularisation], an informal narrative method drawn from her approach to teaching.

Her one full-length novel, Le bibliotecarie di Alessandria (2002), was short-listed for the Premio Strega and the Premio Vittorini, and won New York University’s Zerilli-Marimò Award.

In her later years Lavagnino played a central role in a wider cultural project to record a forgotten part of Italian history. During the Nazi occupation a team of civil servants defied the authorities in order to rescue artworks from the dangers of the Allied invasion and bring them to safety in the Vatican. This operation is commemorated in Un inverno 1943-1944 (2006), which draws on accounts left by those who took part in it. Lavagnino herself appears in Paolo Pisanelli’s film, Un inverno di guerra (BigSur, 2009), which is based on her book.

Her work has been translated into English and other foreign languages.

Compiled by Adam Elgar

Bibliography

Novels and Short Stories

I Lucertoloni (Mursia, 1969)

Il fantasma nel sole. Un gotico siciliano (serialised in Amica magazine, 1974)

Una granita di caffè con panna. Con una nota di Leonardo Sciascia (Mondadori, 1974;  Sellerio, 2001)

I Daneu. Una familia di antiquari. Con una nota di Leonardo Sciascia (Rizzoli, 1981; Sellerio, 2003)

Zanzare (Sellerio, 1994)

Belli di mamma (UTET, 1997)

Le bibliotecarie di Alessandria (Sellerio, 2002)

La madre dell’ultimo profeta (Edizioni dell’Altana, 2004)

Via dei Serpenti [reprint of I lucertoloni] (Sellerio, 2005)

Un inverno 1943-1944. Testimonianze e ricordi sulle operazioni per la salvaguardia delle opere d’arte italiane durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale (Sellerio, 2006)

La mala aria. Storia di una lunga malattia narrata in breve (Sellerio, 2010)

La nonna volante, e altre storie di paesi, di bambini, e di animali per chi ancora non legge e per chi legge (Edilazio, 2010)

Translations by Alessandra Lavagnino

Heidi [Translation of Johanna Spyri’s novel for children] (Giunti, 1978)

Pattini d’argento  [Translation of Mary M Dodge’s children’s novel Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates] (Giunti, 1988)

Orgoglio e pregiudizio [Translation of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice] (Giunti Marzocco, 1990)

English Translations of Lavagnino's Work

The Lizards [Translation of I Lucertoloni by William Weaver] (Harper and Row, 1972)

The Librarians of Alexandria [Translation of Le bibliotecarie di Alessandria by Teresa Lust] (Steerforth Press, 2006)

Truth and Flies [Translation of Una granita di caffè con panna by Adam Elgar]  (Troubador, 2010)

A Winter of War 1943-1944 [Translation of Un inverno 1943-1944 by Adam Elgar] (forthcoming: University of New Orleans Press)

Compiled by Adam Elgar

 

Criticism

Cusimano, Rosanna: ‘Presentazione del romanzo, Le Bibliotecarie di Alessandria’ (Palermo: Accademia Clara Schumann, 2002)

Longo, Nicola: ‘Elisabetta, un’annunciazione mancata’ in «Ubi neque aerugo neque tinea demolitur». Studi in onore di Luigi Pellegrini per i suoi settanta anni ed. Maria Grazia Del Fuoco (Naples: Liguori, 2006) [a study of La madre dell’ultimo profeta]

Scarsella, Claudia: Alessandra Lavagnino. La verità, la parola, la donna. PhD thesis (Università II di Roma, Tor Vergata, 2008-2009)

Selected Reviews

I lucertoloni

Anon: ‘A una biologa-romanziera assegnato il premio ‘L’Inedito’ (Corriere della Sera, 1 March 1968)

Leuzzi, Giuseppe: ‘Promettente esordio di A. Lavagnino’ (Avanti! Milano, 24 April 1969)

Una granita di caffè con panna

Baldacci, Luigi: ‘La decorosa e sinistra Sicilia di una scienziata romanziera’ (Epoca 1227, 7 April 1974)

Benfante, Marcello: ‘Di verità in Sicilia si può morire’ (La Repubblica, 4 July 2001)

Le bibliotecarie di Alessandria/ The Librarians of Alexandria

Marro, Daniela: ‘Tutto ebbe inizio nella nostra terra’ (Il Tempo, 28 August 2003)

Pent, Sergio: ‘Il profumo dei libri salva un gran mare di gente’ (La Stampa, 15 June 2002)

McCulloch, Alison: Review of The Librarians of Alexandria (New York Times, 4 June 2006)

Rohrbaugh, Lisa: Review of The Librarians of Alexandria: A Tale of Two Sisters (Library Journal, 15 March 2006)

Spera, Miriam: Review of Le bibliotecarie di Alessandria (Orizzonti Cristiani, 31 May 2002)

Interview

Pecoraro, Vito: ‘“In viaggio con le zanzare”: intervista ad Alessandra Lavagnino’ (Astrolabe, Centre de Recherche sur la Littérature des Voyages, 2010)

Compiled by Adam Elgar