A valley in northern Italy where the sun filters through only three months a year. A tough teenager with fuchsia hair and oversized breasts. A dyslexic boy who reads words back to front and lives with his widowed mother on a secluded farm in the mountains. A teacher accused of a crime that comes back to haunt him. The three become connected, all marked by reading To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that becomes an obsession and acts as a strange, subtle mirror to them, as the power of words and reading changes the course of their lives.
An engaging, moving book that both young and older readers can easily relate to. Roberto Tiraboschi has a talent for writing characters that get under your skin.
Three questions to the author:
KG: Roberto, you’ve had a very varied literary career. What motivated you to write a young adult novel? Does it revolve around a subject that’s close to your heart?
RT: Nibelli Zontro is motivated by a wish to communicate to teenagers today what discovering reading and books has meant to me. I remember very distinctly the emotions and sensations – sometimes physical – that some pages had on me, so I’ve tried to convey this discovery to young people, in the hope that they might be inspired to read more. One of the central themes of the book is friendship, which is of great importance for me.
KG: Tell us about the part of Italy where the book is set.
RT: The location where the novel is set is an imaginary combination of various places I knew well as a child. I am from Bergamo and mountains are a part of my DNA. I was keen not to describe the mountains using the sugary stereotypes currently so in vogue, but instead as a place of solitude, where life is hard, where children have to face a thousand difficulties, being cut off from the stimulating world of large cities.
KG: What are you working on now?
RT: I’ve just finished a new historical novel set in medieval Venice, 1172 to be precise – a crucial year for the city, because that was when the rules for the election of the doges were overturned. They went from direct election by acclamation to a system that delegated the choice to an enlightened few. I think this is a very relevant topic for the present day. Populism, the will of the people, direct democracy via the internet, referendum: these are words we hear from our politicians every day. It’s an open debate. History repeats itself.
I am also currently trying to turn Nibelli Zontro into a film or TV series, which is a complex job.
By Katherine Gregor
by Roberto Tiraboschi (Giunti, September 2019)
Currently on the bestseller list in Italy: Antonio Manzini, Ah l’amore l’amore (Sellerio, January 2020), Elena Ferrante, L’amica geniale (E/O, 2011), Gianrico Carofiglio, La misura del tempo (Einaudi, November 2019).
Recently published in English translation: Piero Chiara, The Bishop’s Bedroom (New Vessel Press, November 2019). Translated by Jill Foulston
With thanks to Luisa Rovetta at Grandi & Associati, Milan.
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.