“A spectacular Middle East.” We rediscover Fausta Cialente, a memorable and remote writer

For a professional reader, the discovery of a writer is often linked to a specific episode or a network of episodes that have led him to delve deeper. For example, the name of Fausta Cialente for me it is related to two facts. The first refers to college years.

I was studying 20th century Italy and was paying close attention to what was directly suggested by the critics I was most connected to. I met Cialente for an enthusiastic opinion that Emilio Cecchi had given, presenting a new edition of the novel Part of Cleopatrathe first edition of which dates from 1936. The second episode that, some time later, made me go back to her, was the amazing discovery of the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, among the narrative masterpieces of the last century, the last volume of which, Clea, which I considered, among the four, the most poetically resolved, or where poetry was deified in the most mysterious character in the tetralogy, precisely in Clea, had been first translated into Italian in 1962 by Feltrinelli of her, I say from her. Fausta Cialente. Of that work, Cialente had declared:

“The author took me by the hand and took me back to places that are infinitely dear to me, in the midst of figures and landscapes that I prefer, but that I had to see again with a completely different light: a much more imaginary Alexandria. that real, more colorful and cloudy, more complicated and mysterious than it has ever been. So it is natural that he preferred fidelity and poetry with which, in truly beautiful pages, the splendor of the Agami Sea, the hunting of ducks, the sunrises in the salt lakes are returned. And the charm of the luxurious and extravagant prose that Durrell uses to interpret this modern one is undeniable. a thousand and one nights of a spectacular Middle East. ”

What this statement shows is precisely the different way of feeling that legendary city, which Fausta Cialente had lived for more than twenty years between the two wars together with her musician husband (from whom she later separated, continuing to travel through all over the world, as it has been used since she was a child) and which will also be the theme of many of her books, since Levantine ballad (1961), a The wind in the sand (1973). If for Durrell the Egyptian city was above all a mental, psychic place, a poetic space where trying to explain how much reality was above all an interpretive fact, Cialente, on the other hand, wants to paint the atmospheres he lived and return to, in the first place. , a music and a color that you carry inside.

And among the novels set in Alexandria in Egypt, perhaps the most important is precisely the first, Part of Cleopatrawhich is now back in the La Tartaruga bookstore with a long and exhaustive portrait of the author signed by Melania G. Mazzucco. It’s called a colorful novel. And if I had to suggest one Part of Cleopatra I would say that there is no landscape, among which Cialente describes, other than yellow. A yellow so intense that it tends to white. A yellow that already contains all the sand of the desert that rises with the winds and all the light that shines; an equatorial light without shadows. But not only the city lights have this color, also the syntax (persuasive, warm, sensual), the language (a dense and saturated lexicon), the story, the characters are part of the same landscape, radiate the same glow . .

Cleopatra is a neighborhood in Alexandria, eroded by salt and poverty, where much of the narrative takes place. There, in the same courtyard, all the cultures of the Mediterranean coexist. The novel revolves around Marco, a boy born in that suburb of a Greek mother and Italian father. But one day, that father makes a bundle and takes his son with him to Italy. But when his father dies, Marco decides to return with a mother he practically doesn’t know, in a life that is completely alien to him.

But Marco is the real strange body that bursts into the life of the courtyard, and his strangeness is a kind of irruption and revolution of an illusory harmony. Marco is a god and a demon, the one who is able to excite and excite and at the same time the person who puts everyone’s life in crisis, with his behavior that seduces and irritates him, upsets him and then, when his burden is exhausted numinosa, when the sense of responsibility would want to be nailed to duties, to leave everyone to their tragic and unhappy fate. It has been said that the color of Part of Cleopatra it’s yellow. And perhaps it should be added that Marco himself wears this color, it is the Apollo that illuminates the breath of life in that tired neighborhood.

Fausta Cialente, twenty years after the publication of the novel, wrote in a new edition that the book had not had the destiny it deserved. It is the same fate that befell its author, that in spite of a Strega Prize (with The four Wieselberger girls 1976), important critical opinions (among the most recent, an in – depth essay by Franco Cordelli introducing the reprint of Levantine ballad), television transpositions (a script with Giulietta Masina was remaking the novel A very cold winter of 1966), has always been hidden by the well-known names in the literature of the last century. But it is also the destiny that Cialente has somehow chosen for herself. He did not like to do interviews and not even worldly life; he knew how to defend the private and separate it from literature; she was a restless woman and always on the run. On the run as its splendid protagonist, Marco, who enters the scene showing how intense existence can be. And it is the intensity of a moment, like a yellow landscape that for a moment contains all the colors in itself: all life.

* On the cover: Jean-Léon Gérôme, Study for palms, 1868

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