Two from Dino Buzzati (Books acquired, last week of March 2023)

NYRB is issuing a new translation of Italian author Dino Buzzati’s 1940 novel Il deserto dei Tartari next month. In his afterword to this new edition, translator Lawrence Venuti points out that Buzzati’s original intended title, La fortezza, was rejected by the novel’s publisher Rizzoli, who expressed concerns that, with the outbreak of WW2, the title might be misunderstood by the reading public. The novel received an English translation by Stuart Hood twelve years later as The Tartar Steppe. Venuti restores Buzzati’s intended title in his new translation.

I started in on The Stronghold last night, just casually dipping into a few pages, as I try to do with all of these silly “book acquired” posts, and wound up reading the first fifty pages in one go, then picking it up again this morning. It quickly reminded me of Kafka’s The Castle and Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled—the kind of novel of endless deferrals, its alterity heightened by the concrete precision of the prose. Great stuff so far.

NYRB is also releasing an edition of Joseph Green’s translation of Buzzati’s later novel, A Love Affair. Their blurb:

Antonio Dorigi is a successful architect in Milan, nearing fifty, who has always been afraid of women. He has been a regular at an upscale brothel for years, even as he mourns the lack of close female companionship in his life.

One afternoon, the madam at the brothel introduces Tonio to “a new girl,” Laide (short for Adelaide). Tonio sees nothing especially remarkable about Laide, though it intrigues him that she dances at La Scala and also at a strip club, and yet in a very short time he becomes completely obssessed with her.

Laide draws Antonio on, confounds him, uses and humiliates him, treats him tenderly from time to time, lies to him, makes no apologies to him, and he loves her ever more. This helpless and hopeless love is what he is, he feels, even as it prevents him—we see—from ever seeing Laide for who she is. Because Who is she? is the question at the heart of Buzzati’s clear-eyed and often comic tale of infatuation.

Laide is a young woman who has never known the bourgeois prosperity Tonio takes for granted, someone in a pickle looking for a main chance. She is a storyteller and someone, too, who knows how stories tell on people and shape their desires and lives.

Is A Love Affair a love story or is it a story of anything but love? Buzzati’s novel, with its psychological subtleties, its vivid cityscapes, and its compassion, keeps the reader guessing till the end.

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