This is pretty cool: Goliarda Sapienza’s huge novel The Art of Joy, in English translation for the first time by Anne Milano Appel and published by Picador.
Rejected by a series of publishers, abandoned in a chest for twenty years, Goliarda Sapienza’s masterpiece, The Art of Joy, survived a turbulent path to publication. It wasn’t until 2005, when it was released in France, that this novel received the recognition it deserves. At last, Sapienza’s remarkable book is available in English.
The Art of Joy centers on Modesta, a Sicilian woman born in 1900 whose strength and character are an affront to conventional morality. Impoverished as a child, Modesta believes she is destined for a better life. She is able, through grace and intelligence, to secure marriage to an aristocrat without compromising her own deeply felt values, and revels in upsetting the rules of her fascist, patriarchal society. This is the history of the twentieth century seen through the perspective of one extraordinary woman.
Got into a bit of it this weekend and it looks like good stuff; if your interest is piqued, you might want to check out Emily Cooke’s New Yorker piece for more. From Cooke’s essay:
What exactly the art of joy consists of isn’t immediately evident. At the outset, the novel reads less like a handbook on happiness than like a sadomasochistic Italian novelization of “The Joy of Sex.” It opens with a girl, called Modesta, who is born in 1900, in Sicily, to modest circumstances and immodest predilections, masturbating to the screams of a resented disabled sister, whom Modesta fantasizes is deliberately rending her own flesh. Masturbation gives way to cunnilingus by a tall neighbor boy, which gives way to intercourse, with Modesta’s deflowering, at the age of nine, by a stranger who claims to be her father. Perhaps the “joy” part hasn’t begun yet. But, wait, she rather likes it, at least until he sticks “something hard … into the hole where the pee-pee came out.” Immediately after the rape, the family’s hut goes up in flames, the casualty of a fire that Modesta has lit accidentally/on purpose. The worst casualties are Modesta’s sister and mother, locked in a bedroom by the prodigal father. Modesta has a chance to unlock them; she does not take it. The father is gone for good. Dispatched to a convent, this “poor tormented child,” as the nuns gullibly call her, fakes seizures in order to secure the comforting bosom of the Mother Superior, Leonora, who likes to titillate herself and her charge with stories of the persecuted Saint Agatha. Her bosom, St. Agatha’s was torn from her chest with “red-hot forceps” and “arranged … warm and tremulous, on a silver tray.” The lurid description gives Modesta “a thrill of pleasure” “so intense and protracted” that she has to grit her teeth to avoid a cry. When she discovers that the nun won’t put out—Leonora ventures only a “few timid caresses” and punishes Modesta for having witnessed her masturbating—infatuation turns to anger. “I hate her, I hate her,” she shrieks, alone in her cell, then brings herself to orgasm. All this before Modesta has reached the age of eighteen, and the book a tenth of its length.