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Alessandro Baricco Presents ‘Emmaus’ in Cambridge

On Thursday, May 31, famous Italian author Alessandro Baricco presented one of his latest novels, ‘Emmaus,’ recently translated into English and published by McSweeney’s.

Organized by the Italian General Consulate, Professionisti Italian a Boston and hosted by the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts, the event saw more than 150 people gathered to listen to Baricco, as he talked about his books and his writing, as well as his brief experience as a writer-in-residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 2001.

“I remember it with great affection,” said Baricco of the experience. “I stayed in an apartment, right next to the museum. It is not there anymore, replaced by the Renzo Piano’s new wing. I had a chance to visit it before coming here.”

During that experience in Boston, Baricco recalled how he had shifted to a new phase of his writing career. “I had recently published ‘City,’ which I considered my best work, ever. I started writing a new book while in Boston, and it eventually became ‘Senza sangue.’ ‘City’ was a big, expansive book, and I wanted to write something small, something more immediate.”

Eight years after that experience, Baricco published ‘Emmaus.’ Now, three years later, the book has been translated into English by The New Yorker’s Ann Goldstein and published by McSweeney’s.

“It is the only one of my books in which I tell stories I know of,” said Baricco. “I do not like to write about my personal experiences. It is almost unconceivable for me. But for ‘Emmaus’ I went back to my childhood, although it is not autobiographical. Some things are, like the description of the environment we lived in and a certain lifestyle.”

Based in a foggy city of northern Italy — likely the author’s native Turin — the book rotates around the personal trials faced by four 16- and 17-year-olds, who are grappling with new and unknown challenges: sex, religion and a more stark, yet subtle, contrast with their parents.

“It is not the happiest of my books,” admitted Baricco, adding it is one of his most personal. “The funny thing is, I was a very ordinary child. Quite boring, even. After the book was published, my mother called me up and asked if we could meet to talk. She looked at me and said: ‘You weren’t that sad when you were little.’”

Baricco then proceeded to read the first few pages from his book in Italian, followed by a reading of the same pages in English by Nicola Orichuia, the evening’s moderator.

The final part of the evening was open to questions from the public.

Consul General Giuseppe Pastorelli asked what the author thought about his works being adapted into movies. “I’m OK with it,” said Baricco. “I have no problem. An author cannot expect the director to have the same vision. Everyone reads the book differently.” Baricco’s title ‘Silk’ was made into a movie in 2007, starring Keira Knightley and Michael Pitt. Baricco also directed the 2008 production “Lezione 21.”

Another member of the audience asked about the process involved when a book is translated into another language.

“I have come to realize that it is not productive to try to impose a certain direction to the translation. After spending three days in New York with the translator for this book [Ann Goldstein] I told her to forget everything I told her and do what she thought best for the book. There is a lot of trust put into translators.”

Copies of ‘Emmaus’ were on sale thanks to the collaboration of independent bookstore Porter Square Books, and the public was able to have the author sign copies of the book at the end of the evening.

Photos by Valentina Oppezzo.

About Nicola Orichuia

Nicola is an Italian journalist and media enthusiast living in the United States. He keeps an eye on the Italian-American communities across the country and is always looking for positive stories to highlight.