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

Fifty bridges, sketched in black, bathed in blue and white. Bridges built using stone or timber, made of powerful tree roots, snow bridges formed by nature over a crevice between two glaciers, a bridge joining two horizons – a rainbow – over a field, a bridge made of ropes and the bridge on a cello. In the Sahara Desert, in Venice, in Florence, in Manhattan, in San Francisco. In Switzerland, in Spain, in China, in Iran. Fifty stories about the people who built these bridges, the people who cross them and the legends that inhabit them. Ponti non muri is a small, illustrated book to keep on your bedside or coffee table. A jewel to pick up, read a few pages and remember that, for all the walls erected and borders tightened, we are always connected. That we must be connected.  

Three questions to the authors:

KG: Ponti non muri is a highly original book. Which one of you thought of it first and why?

PV: Giancarlo and I were living in different locations: he was in Milan and I in Sardinia. We get inspired when we’re physically in the same place, while we’re taking a walk and chatting. It’s hard to say which one of us had the idea first. Our conversations are water-like, a constant flow. 

GA: The idea originated when Trump began to plan a wall between the US and Mexico. For many years now there’s been talk of nothing but walls and ways of keeping people out: naval blockades, borders, etc. A book about bridges, built in order to connect people, seemed like a breath of fresh air.

KG: I am fascinated by your choice of this particular shade of blue for your illustrations. What is this colour called exactly, and why have you chosen it?

PV: Bridges often act as intermediaries between the water and the sky, which is why we were looking for a shade of blue that would go well with black and make the page airy. We thought this colour was perfect: it’s called Pantone 291.

GA: Using another colour besides black adds depth and helps to emphasise sections of the drawings, and blue seemed appropriate for edifices that are suspended in mid-air, like bridges. We also wanted a colour that would help the narrative along but nothing too warm, since this is a book of stories but is also about architecture.

KG: How did you work together, given the fact that you have both written the texts and done the illustrations?

PV: After drafting an outline, we decided on the bridges each of us would write about and illustrate. During the work process, we assessed, commented on, corrected and even rejected some of each other’s drawings and texts. When you work together you have to be honest but also humble.

GA: The hardest part was the search for bridges to include. We ended up discarding fifty or so, as many as we then wrote about and drew. Then we split them and started drawing and writing, critiquing and advising each other during the process. We always do this whenever we work on a book together.

by Katherine Gregor


PONTI NON MURI (Bridges, Not Walls) Illustrated non-fiction

by Giancarlo Ascari & Pia Valentinis (Bompiani, 2018)

Read an excerpt from Ponti non muri translated by Katherine Gregor.


With thanks to Manuela Melato, Bompiani, Milan.

Currently on the bestseller list in Italy: Come un respiro by Ferzan Ozpetek (Mondadori).

Recently published in English translation: Heaven and Earth by Paolo Giordano, translated by Anne Milano Appel (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, June 2020).


Katherine Gregor grew up in Italy and France before going to university in England.  She has been a theatrical agent, press agent, teacher and one or two other things before becoming a literary translator from Italian, French and, on occasion, Russian.  She also writes original material and is currently working on a non-fiction book.

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