Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention of writing a novel himself. Written in three parts, the novel narrates Ilja’s days as a Dutch foreigner in Genoa, describing the beautiful city which both frustrates and enthralls him. Unlike his own country, which runs systematically and smoothly, Ilja praises Italy for its “improvisation,” causing Italians to be “the most resourceful, resilient, and creative people I know.”

Often holed up in a bar enjoying an aperitif and claiming to write poetry, Ilja assumes the role of careful observer, creating caricatures and recording the stories of those around him. As a foreigner himself, Ilja presents us with a character who is simultaneously within and without— though he has seemingly mastered the Italian language, and purchased nice Italian suits beyond his means to traipse around the city in, Ilja is never fully integrated into the Genoese world he adores. He even identifies with tourists, describing their behaviors in connection to himself: “Incomprehension and insecurity are written all over their faces as they hesitantly wander around the labyrinth. I like them. They’re my brothers. I feel connected to them.”

And yet, he is not the only character to remain foreign in the beloved city. Ilja befriends illegal immigrants from Morocco and Senegal, for whom this new life in Genoa is simply an impoverished perpetuation of the fantasies of their homeland. Like most poor men who have arrived from African countries, their families raised, borrowed, and loaned funds to send them to Europe in hopes of finding immediate riches. Rashid, a Moroccan, tells Ilja about the expectation that he will return to his home country with a new car and Rolex for each member of his family, but in reality is selling roses on the street for a euro a piece, all while borrowing money to send home so that his family can continue believing otherwise. Rashid tells Ilja that he “live[s] in a fantasy,” and “not even one I made up myself.”

While the novel could be a meditation on these seemingly irreconcilable forces of fantasy and reality, and struggle and success within a foreigner’s quest to assimilate, Ilja comes across too many characters of wildly different backgrounds to draw on such concrete themes. Don, a local celebrity who lives out of a hotel room and whose occupation appears to be drinking all of the mostly-gin and tonics in the city is, while handsy, an extremely well-liked acquaintance. Ilja also tells the stories of Walter, a young director who attempts to buy a theater with him, and, of course, “the most beautiful girl in Genoa,” who is the object of Ilja’s attention for the majority of the novel.

With the narrator acting as an author himself, parts of the novel become self-referential: Ilja constantly addresses the reader as “my friend,” calling the text a series of “notes” that will be turned “into a novel someday.” This seems to explain the rather loose narrative, as Ilja’s stories do not seem to come to any conclusive end, but simply act as a mirror for the city and its inhabitants as he observes them. Riddled with storylines of prostitution, affairs with amputated legs, and investments gone wrong, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer has written a book that gives us an honest perspective into the inner workings of a small but beautiful city. La Superba offers an exotic form of chaos and tragedy, and an extremely truthful image of old Italian life in a postmodern city.



Comments are disabled for this article.

....

La Superba
By Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer
Translated by Michele Hutchison
Reviewed by Anna Alden
400 pages, paperback
ISBN: 9781941920220
$15.95
I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >