27 May 08 | Chad W. Post

This is the seventh Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website.

Europa Editions started in 2005 as the English-language counterpart to Edizioni e/o, one of Italy’s most important publishing houses. Europa primarily publishes literature in translation, although they do do some English books (such as Steve Erickson’s latest) as well. And although the overlap isn’t 100%, Edizioni e/o is in the unique position of being able to publish a particular title in both Italian and English. (And with the recent creation of Sharq/Gharb, e/o’s latest publishing venture, you can add Arabic to that list as well.)

Anyway, one of the first titles Europa published was Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, which did remarkably well and helped create a legion of Europa Editions fans. (It’s remarkable how popular Europa is with booksellers. Their books have a distinctive design, are very literary, and manage to find a readership. And now that Europa will be distributed by Penguin it looks like they’re about to jump to the “next level” so to speak.)

Ferrante’s an interesting figure. According to the Europa website, she is “one of Italy’s most important and acclaimed contemporary authors, [but] has successfully shunned public attention and kept her whereabouts and her true identity concealed.” (There’s not much more available online either . . .)

As described on the Europa website, The Days of Abandonment

tells the story of one woman’s headlong descent into what she calls an “absence of sense” after being abandoned by her husband. Olga’s “days of abandonment” become a desperate, dangerous freefall into the darkest places of the soul as she roams the empty streets of a city that she has never learned to love.

Considered somewhat scandalous in Italy, the shocking and straightforward tone of this novel really appealed to readers all over the world. And it’s not hard to see why based on the opening paragraph:

One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me. He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarreling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator. He told me that he was confused, that he was having terrible moments of weariness, of dissatisfaction, perhaps of cowardice. He talked for a long time about our fifteen years of marriage, about the children, and admitted that he had nothing to reproach us with, neither them nor me. He was composed, as always, apart from an extravagant gesture of his right hand when he explained to me, with a childish frown, that soft voices, a sort of whispering, were urging him elsewhere. Then he assumed the blame for everything that was happening and closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink.

(The first four chapters are available online.)

I might be wrong, but I think this is the most successful book Europa has published to date. And it’s a perfect Reading the World book—definitely worth checking out.

And if you like The Days of Abandonment, or if you’ve already read it, you may want to check out Ferrante’s latest, The Lost Daughter, which was reviewed over the weekend in the Seattle Times. (The review includes this selling line: “The Lost Daughter, is about as sentimental in its view of parenting as a Mother’s Day card inscribed in battery acid.”)

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