The Italian Riveter: Postcard from West Camel by West Camel

When we asked our Italian writers and translators to send us their postcards from around Italy, we suggested they offer our readers some literary anecdote, some memory about books, or even recommendations of work connected to the city or region they were sending their messages from. Beyond that, we were not prescriptive. We gave them free rein. And the result was a grand variety of responses, from up-sums of cities’ literary output, to personal experiences, to literary sketches; a diversity that beautifully reflects the current state of Italian literary culture – and the content of our Italian Riveter.

So that leaves my postcard – not from the village in Somerset with which I share a name, but from my experience of Italian literature, gained through commissioning and editing this magazine.

My first visit to Italy was to Venice – and I was very nearly left there. I was on a tour of northern Yugoslavia (as it was at that time) with a youth orchestra, and we took a daytrip to Venice, arriving in La Serenissima from the sea. After a day touring the city, we headed back to the quay, but my particular group was slowed down by a friend (a bassist) who’d hurt her foot. Fearing we’d miss the boat, another, strapping, bassist hoisted his deskmate onto his shoulders and ran for it, while I followed on with the bags – only to find the boat pulling away from the dock with the two bassists on it, while I stood on the quayside. Some shouts and some leaps (assisted by Italians and Croatians), and I was safely aboard. Someone had mischievously answered my name on the roll call.

My postcard, then, is from a West Camel of my imagination – who stayed on the quayside on the Riva degli Schiavoni and whose experiences I have to construct from my reading of this magazine.

The Italy that West Camel has discovered is one that – to some extent, at least – has laid to bed the upheavals of its twentieth century, and is now looking to the changes the twenty-first century is bringing. Italy’s long and important history – and long and important literary history – is not ignored, of course, as we see from Katherine Gregor’s musings about historical fiction, and from the wealth of books exploring historical topics. But my sense is that the decades of fascism and the transition to a modern democracy, as explored by Ginzburg and Pavese, for example, are themselves now being consigned to the historical shelves, and that Italy’s new generations of writers are grappling with contemporary challenges, and looking to Italy’s future.

These are women writers – carving out new spaces for themselves, but also looking back at the wealth of Italian female writing, as Maria Teresa Carbone discusses in her feature.

These are also ‘New Italians’: writers from immigrant backgrounds, such as Nadeesha Uyangoda and Cristina Ali Farah, who see Italy – its history and its culture – through new and different eyes.

These are children’s writers, who, as translator Denise Muir discusses, are extending Italy’s long tradition of children’s literature and are now leading the world in terms of diversity and subject matter.

These are poets drawing on the grand twentieth-century movements in verse, and forging new trends focussing on contemporary global concerns.

And these are writers confronting our most immediate challenges, as Paolo Giordano does the Covid pandemic.

And that’s not to mention the authors and commentators and publishers and translators who, within these pages, are exploring and expostulating and championing and interrogating contemporary Italian writing. Our thanks go to them all, for their enthusiasm, for their honesty, and their passion for this country’s literary culture. They have made my trip to Italy a joy.

The weather and the food are great here too, by the way. And I don’t wish you were here, because you’ve read this magazine, so you already are: in the Italy of Italian literature. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s every bit as varied, vivid and vivacious as the brochure paints it.

By West Camel

The Riveter Editor


Read The Italian Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.

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