THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. LA GIOIA AVVENIRE (‘Future joy’) by Stella Poli

I have been meaning to write about this month’s book since it was recommended to me almost a year ago. But Stella Poli’s La gioia avvenire is not an easy read, nor easy to write about, nor is the subject matter easy: child abuse, sexual assault, bureaucracy, legal red tape, and support for the abused – or lack thereof. 

Allow me, then, to start at the beginning, with my translation of the opening page:

You should never talk about things.

Things – barely cracked open – create a series of connections, implications, filaments of a purple and viscous nature such as those photos of synapses in secondary school text books. Brought into existence, thrown into the mix, they are terrible newborns, parcels the colour of roast beef with unstoppable stares.

A thing told is an arrogant creature: it demands, it extorts even.

Maybe it’s because we think of everything as a tale.

We read the universe through the lens of narrative categories: a story is merely the progressive erosion of the preceding category, its fraying. When it ceases to be fitting, it can be dropped. This is probably – maybe – the reason why we instinctively add a follow-up to the smallest gorgon of a spoken thing. A loosening, even. We assume it has a structure, a construction model.

‘Maybe we do so in order to tell it apart from life, who knows.’

Stella Poli’s novel is, ostensibly, about a psychiatrist, Sara, discussing one of her patients with a lawyer. The patient was abused at the age of fourteen by a forty-year-old man (a family friend, met in church), and many years later has yet to see any resolution or justice. Sara’s aim is to find out if there is any way of rectifying this. The novel is also about the patient, Nadia, her own exploration of her life at the time of the abuse, and her life since – the extract above is her voice, opening a crack into her situation, both for Sara and the reader. 

The psychologist’s conversation with the lawyer is at times heart breaking, as the facts are splayed across the table, dissecting them in order to find ways for the law to intervene, almost forgetting that beneath all the words and files and legal jargon is an actual person. In fact, around halfway in the text is a passage narrated in Nadia’s voice, which deals with the same topic (my translation):

Fourteen, sixteen, eighteen.

You need parameters. 

You need them, for sharing purposes.

[…]

[My friend] tells me of the first geography test she set her class. A valley is called a valley up to three hundred metres. Three to seven hundred: it’s a hill. Beyond that: a mountain. The class repeats the lesson, in unison.

Geography test. What is a mountain? One student, both ontological and metaphysical: a collection of sharp rocks. (My hero.)

Another, budding avant-garde poet: a valley is a hill. I hope she marries the metaphysicist when they grow older.

As she tells me this, I’m thinking: what purpose does it serve a hill to be considered a mountain after 710 metres? And not a mountain at 695 metres? Who decided this? What’s the point?

Adult, consensual, without injury.

Where does adult begin?

A hill around seven hundred?

How do you measure, if it even exists, adultness?

(What about consent? What about injury?)

How do I prove that I wasn’t an adult, that I didn’t want to, that it hurt?

Poli’s writing style throughout follows this same staccato rhythm, in her choices of spelling, punctuation and syntax. Memories being crystallised, coalesced, and cocooned by the words used to describe them, years after the fact. She writes of people trying to find distance from an unshakable sense of guilt, reinforced by the legal system and its crude definitions and line-drawing. She writes of the failings of the legal system in the conversation with the otherwise very helpful young lawyer, and the failings that survivors of abuse are forced to internalise. She writes of how language both helps and does not help those seeking a way out. Language, she says, both alienates and brings closer, makes the familiar viscerally unsettling, and also tries to offer an exit route where there are none – it does not always succeed.

An initial reading of the book could place the conversations between Sara and the lawyer as a frame for Nadia’s fragments and thoughts. That illusion is dispelled in the final third of the text, as all the distancing, all the guilt, all the remorse converge to a single point, revealing another layer of truth –  that I won’t reveal here. The reader is not tricked with a twist, but rather brought into the psyche of a person still dealing with how traumatic events earlier in her life have tried to define her, and how she has tried to resist that. It is a deft language game by Stella Poli, perhaps already hinted at by her title choice, not tidily translatable into English:a play on words, borrowed from a Franco Fortini poem, la gioia a venire, ‘the joy yet to come’ vs la gioia avvenire, in which avvenire means ‘future’, two nouns that cannot grammatically work together; a syncopated hope for a more positive horizon, a jarring promise of something better.

By Alex Valente

LA GIOIA AVVENIRE 

(‘Future joy’)

by Stella Poli

Published in Italian by Mondadori (2023)

Translations from Italian by Alex Valente


Stella Poli was born in Piacenza in 1990. She is a researcher in Italian linguistics at the University of Pavia and teaches contemporary poetry for MasterBook. She is one of the editors of Trasparenze and La Balena Bianca. La gioia avvenire, which was a finalist for the XXXIV Premio Calvino, is her first novel.


Alex Valente (he/him) is a white European currently living on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and səlilwətaɬ land. He is a literary translator from Italian into English, though he also dabbles with French and RPGs, and is co-editor of The Norwich Radical. His work has been published in NYT Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, The Short Story Project, and PEN Transmissions.


Read previous posts in The Italianist series:

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. PRIMA CHE CHIUDIATE GLI OCCHI (‘Before you close our eyes’) by Morena Pedriali Errani

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Clarissa Botsford. THE COLOUR LINE by Igiaba Scego – Igiaba Scego in conversation with Clarissa Botsford

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. TRE CIOTOLE (‘Three bowls’) by Michela Murgia

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. LA TRAMA ALTERNATIVA (‘The alternarive plot’) by Giusi Palomba

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. LA POESIA È UN UNICORNO (‘Poetry is a unicorn’) by Francesca Genti

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. IO SARÒ IL ROVO (I will be the thorn) by Francesca Matteoni

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. INSORGIAMO (Rise up) by Collettivo di fabbrica GKN

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. GLI AMANTI SOMMERSI (The Sunken Lovers) by Mattia Conti

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. TUTTA INTERA (In One Piece) by Espérance Hakuzwimana

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. RABBIA PROTEGGIMI (Anger Protect Me) by Edgarda Marcucci

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. LGBTQIA+ – MANTENERE LA COMPESSITÀ (LGBTQIA+ – Keep it complex) by Antonia Caruso

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. LA NOTTE SI AVVICINA (Night Is Closing In) by Loredana Lipperini

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Alex Valente. L’UNICA PERSONA NERA NELLA STANZA (The Only Black Person in the Room) by Nadeesha Uyangoda

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. LA NON MAMMA (The Non-Mum) by Susanna Tartaro

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. LA COSA PIÙ DOLCE (The Sweetest Thing) by Mary Tibaldi Chiesa

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregorand and Lori Hetherington. IL GIARDINO DEI FIORI DI PIETRA (A Garden of Stone Flowers) by Valerio Luigi Beretta

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. IL GIARDINO INCANTATO (The Enchanted Garden) by Carlo Grande

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. I TACCHINI NON RINGRAZIANO (Turkeys Don’t Give Thanks) by Andrea Camilleri

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. CONVERSAZIONE A QUATTRO

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. CORRERE DAVANTI ALLA BELLEZZA (Running Ahead of Beauty) by Luigi Spagnol

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. LE MUSE NASCOSTE (Hidden Muses) by Lauretta Colonnelli

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THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. STORIA DI LUIS SEPÚLVEDA E DEL SUO GATTO ZORBA (The Story of Luis Sepúlveda and his Cat Zorba) by Ilide Carmignani

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THE ITALIANIST: THE DWARVES’ MARKET and WITCHES’ POLENTA as told by Mary Tibaldi Chiesa, translated by Katherine Gregor

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. And what of Italian Fairy-Tales?

THE ITALIANIST: From QUEL TIPO DI DONNA by Valeria Parrella, translated by Katherine Gregor

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. QUEL TIPO DI DONNA (That Kind of Woman) by Valeria Parrella

THE ITALIANIST: From QUEL TIPO DI DONNA by Valeria Parrella, translated by Katherine Gregor

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. QUEL TIPO DI DONNA (That Kind of Woman) by Valeria Parrella

THE ITALIANIST: From FIORE DI ROCCIA by Ilaria Tuti translated by Katherine Gregor

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. FIORE DI ROCCIA (Flower of the Rocks) by Ilaria Tuti

THE ITALIANIST: From L’ARTE SCONOSCIUTA DEL VOLO by Enrico Fovanna, translated by Katherine Gregor

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. L’ARTE SCONOSCIUTA DEL VOLO (The Unknown Art of Flying) by Enrico Fovanna

THE ITALIANIST: From IL GIOCO DI SANTA OCA by Laura Parianitranslated by Katherine Gregor

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. IL GIOCO DI SANTA OCA (The Game of the Holy Goose) by Laura Pariani

THE ITALIANIST: From PONTI NON MURI by Giancarlo Ascari & Pia Valentinis, translated by Katherine Gregor

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. PONTI NON MURI (Bridges, Not Walls) by Giancarlo Ascari & Pia Valentinis

THE ITALIANIST: From ANDRÀ TUTTO BENE, translated by Katherine Gregor

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. ANDRÀ TUTTO BENE (All Shall Be Well), Writers at the Time of the Quarantine

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