Do you want to enrich your library? For the World Book Day, we suggest 15 contemporary Italian novels to get to know an unseen Italy 

tickets banner

Italian literature has always given us masterpieces of various genres, from coming-of-age novels to thrillers, and that have become famous all over the world. Just think of the works of Luigi Pirandello, the repertoire of Gabriele D'Annunzio or the supreme Dante Alighieri, whose Commedia never ages and still keeps inspiring novelists everywhere.

In particular, over the past 50-70 years, contemporary Italian literature has been enriched by the names of writers, men and women, who have given us priceless and precious titles, that actually became modern classics. No surprise, for example, that Elena Ferrante's works, which are inherently Italian but even particularly groundbreaking, have spread across the United States and have generated the so called “Ferrante Fever”.

But what is the common trait of these contemporary Italian novels and their authors?

A very personal and intimate point of view, which offers a new and unusual form to places we only superficially know (or perhaps we think to know), but above all drives us into the complex characters inner life and we soon grow fond of them after a couple of pages.

If you want to discover an alternative side of Italy or you are simply looking for new titles for your collection, come with us on this north-to-south journey through the pages of 15 contemporary Italian novels we have selected for World Book Day.

Winner of the Strega Prize, Paolo Cognetti's The Eight Mountains recently became an amazing film starring Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi, two outstanding young actors on our scene. The novel is set in Aosta Valley, in a small village called Grana, at the foot of Monte Rosa, where Pietro and Bruno become friends. The former is a Milanese who escapes to the mountains as soon as he can, the latter is viscerally attached to his homeland: the two could not be more different, but during their lives, even if they will often part, they will establish an unbreakable bond, precisely because of the living power of those places.

Snow, streams, meadows, mountain pastures, the beautiful Lake Grenon and all expressions of nature speak their own language, stimulate the five senses and eventually embed those who come into contact with that.

Find out more

Cesare Pavese's last work before he committed suicide, The moon and the bonfires is a novel dedicated to our roots, to the land where we were born and from which we often escape, but which always remains within us ("A country is needed, if only for the sake of leaving").

When Anguilla (eel), now in his 40s, returns from the United States to the countryside where he grew up in the Langhe (Piedmont), he finds his friend Nuto and the simple life of the village, but also all the aftermath and changes left by the war, both in places and in people.

Among vineyards, fig trees and hazelnut trees that are no longer there, nature comes and goes but it is always there with the changing of the seasons (the moon) and lives again in our traditions (the bonfires).

Find out more

In the early 2000s, the late Giorgio Faletti, a comedian and actor turned to literature, gave us very interesting thrillers and noirs, and in A pimp's note he takes us to a nocturnal, opulent and dangerous but certainly very seductive urban setting.

The city of Milan in the 1970s, among discos, luxurious restaurants and smoky night clubs, is the square of Bravo's business, a man with a giant background trauma, who offers beautiful escorts to the highest bidder. When he meets Carla, who wishes to join his team, his life changes and he becomes involved in several situations that were sadly common during the so-called Anni di Piombo (Lead Years, years of terrorism).

Find out more

Among Italo Calvino's masterpieces, The paths of spiders' nests tells a glimpse of World War II from an innovative point of view for that time, because it is filtered through the eyes of a child.

Pin, 10 years old, abandoned by his parents and ignored by his sister, a prostitute by profession, steals a gun from a German soldier and hides it in his secret place, a path along which spiders make their nests. To escape the Nazis, Pin takes refuge with partisans in the mountains of the Ligurian hinterland, where the woods and nature provide a protective and reassuring environment, like the hidden path where the kid used to recreate his solo world – as spiders do with their own nets.

Find out more

I'm staying here is a short novel by Marco Balzano that already captures the reader's curiosity thanks to the beautiful cover depicting the famous Curon bell tower peeping out from the surface of the lake.

The protagonist, Trina, describes how quietly life flows in that village just a couple of steps from Bozen, marked by the rhythms of the seasons, the work in the fields, among stables, pastures and good air, until the Fascists arrival. Indeed, during the Twenty Years of Fascist Period, local people were prevented from speaking German and celebrating their traditions, and actually a forced “Italianization” was imposed. And so, because of the war, Trina, her husband Erich and many other dissidents had no choice but to take refuge in their mountains, a symbol of their roots, which became a place of protection and freedom.

Find out more

The first in a trilogy, the novel Flowers over the inferno is the debut of young Ilaria Tuti and recently became a successful tv series.

A murderer is hiding in the snow, in the fictional village Travenì, in the Dolomites; he violently kills adults but seems to have eye for children. The Captain Teresa Battaglia, an edgy, sharp 60-year-old woman who must come to terms with her precarious health, investigates.

Captain Battaglia's first investigation is a thriller full of twists and takes place in the beautiful landscapes of Friuli Venezia Giulia, its mountains and white forests that often turn into disturbing places, but at the same time become intimate, familiar and protective.

Find out more

Bàrnabo is a young forester living on Veneto mountains with his comrades to guard "la Polveriera", a gunpowder and ammunition storage. When robbers assault the house and kill one of his comrades, Bàrnabo gets scared, escapes and so he is fired.

He tries to make a life for himself in the countryside but soon returns to his mountain, from which he can no longer stay away, for a life of solitude and serenity.

Even for the immortal Dino Buzzati, here in his first novel, mountain become the heart place, the ideal location to take refuge. The unspoiled landscapes, the wind-blown peaks, the lush forests, the cloudy sky and all the sounds of nature: everything is always the same, time passes slowly and you always wait for something. But when finally something comes, you can't face it and the only thing to do is coming back to the tranquility that only monotony can give.

Find out more

8. The garden of Finzi-Continis – Giorgio Bassani (1962)

The garden of Finzi-Continis is undoubtedly Giorgio Bassani's masterpiece, a novel that tells about the sad Italian chapter of racial laws and the ghettoization of Jews in cities before deportation to internment camps. This is the background for the story of the Finzi-Continis, an upperclass Jewish family from Ferrara who live segregated in a beautiful mansion and a lush garden in the heart of the city. Everything is told in flashbacks by the anonymous protagonist (maybe the author itself), a friend of the two young Finzi-Continis, the children Alberto and Micòl (whom he falls in love with).

The garden welcomes anyone who wants to enter it, becomes a kind of locus amenus isolated from the rest of the city and represent a world apart, where time seems to stand still. Around it, there is the city of Ferrara, accurately described with its avenues, paved streets, buildings, the cemetery and the synagogue.

Find out more

An unprecedented Tuscany, far from the splendor of Florence and the Sienese countryside, is the location where the events of Swimming to Elba (in Italian Acciaio, “Steel”), the debut work of Silvia Avallone, a young and sensitive writer, come to life.

We are in Piombino, by the sea of Livorno, in the early 2000s, when Anna and Francesca, lifelong friends, drift apart dragged by the amplified emotions of adolescence and the ordinary and tragic events of life. In the background, poverty, the hard life of the foundries (the main local business), drugs, dysfunctional families and perversions. What emerges is a harsh but at the same time evocative and intense cross-section, mirrored in the sea and overlooking the D'Elba island, which seems very close but conceptually becomes unreachable and turns in a metaphor of the desire to emerge from mediocrity.

Find out more

We certainly could not leave out the Zerocalcare phenomenon (aka Michele Rech) and his comic and sometimes melancholic universe – and above all: we could not leave a graphic novel out of the list!

La profezia dell'armadillo (The armadillo's profecy) is the debut work and a compendium of the 100% Roman cartoonist's philosophy, a series of autobiographical sketches that describes early 2000s everyday lives of a group of 20-something guys from Rebibbia, a suburban neighborhood of Rome with their fears, insecurities and misfortunes.

The present-day frame is bracketed with flashbacks and cartoony interludes featuring strange "characters," some of them from contemporary pop culture; above all, the armadillo from the title, representing the protagonist's consciousness.  

Great importance is given to the urban setting: cafes, clubs, restaurants, streets, Christmas markets, parks, buildings, the bustle of streetcars, the arcade, and the famous place where a fossil of a mammoth was found – and that became the protagonist of the amazing mural, signed by the artist himself, that stands on the wall of the Rebibbia subway station.

Find out more

One of the most highly praised and award-winning contemporary Italian novels, Donatella di Pietrantonio's A girl returned tells of the practice of so-called "donated children", which was quite common in Italy of the last century, and consisted of "donating" children of poor but large families to infertile wealthy couples. The protagonist of the story is precisely "l'arminuta", as the Italian title tells, which in Abruzzi dialect means "the returned one", an unnamed 13-year-old girl who is torn away from the family with which she grew up to end up with her poor and unsentimental biological parents in a house full of abandoned to themselves children.

Here, in a rural setting, amid dialect, misery, and promiscuity, the girl will experience profound culture shock, trying to build an identity for herself without the precise reference that each of us receives as a gift from our family.

Find out more

Among Niccolò Ammaniti's most celebrated novels, I am not scared is set in the remote Apulian hinterland, in a small fictional town called Acque Traverse, in 1979. Here, among the wheat fields, under the boiling sun and blue sky, little Michele grows up. One summer day, while whizzing around on a bicycle with his friends, he discovers a trapdoor hidden in an abandoned farmhouse. Under it, he finds a chained child, with whom he soon befriends and to whom he brings food. Of course, Michele does not know that this child, named Filippo, has been kidnapped and that who did it is very close to him.

In a bucolic, sunny landscape, a story of coming of age and growth comes to life. A cruel and sad story but at the same time it shows us how, by listening to ourselves, it's always possible to do the right thing, even if that means betraying our family.

Find out more

Arturo is a young boy who lives alone on the island of Procida, not so far from the coast of Naples. He is motherless and rarely sees his father, Wilhem, who is aloof and unsentimental, but he's seen as a kind of hero by his son.

A worshipper of masculinity and contemptuous about women, Arturo, now grown up, falls in love with his father's young wife but soon must once again come to terms with a harsh reality.

In a realistic yet fairy-tale setting, the divine Elsa Morante tells a story of growth and self-development; the protagonist comes from childhood to adulthood through the collapse of his certainties about the father figure. It is set in the wild, sunny background of Procida, with dreamlike connotations, representing a world apart: the island, as the title says, is a perfect metaphor for loneliness that men, sooner or later, need to leave.

Find out more

Stefania Auci's The Florios of Sicily is perhaps the best seller of recent years, which has been a huge success in Italy and abroad and will soon become a tv series.

The novel presents the beginning of the epic story of the Florio dynasty, which left Calabria for Palermo to open an aromateria, or a spice and natural remedies store. Soon, the resourcefulness of brothers Ignazio and Paolo and their descendants will give rise to an increasingly large and profitable business, including textiles, sulfur, wines and groceries.

The Florios of Sicily is a docu-fiction novel that honors a family – that really existed – that, between the 19th and early 20th centuries became a representative of the entrepreneurial bourgeoisie, a social class that gained its own wealth in an archaic and traditionalist Sicily, but at the same time warm, lively and teeming with life.

Find out more

The “accabadora” is a mysterious figure in Sardinia ancient tradition, a woman who used to be asked to give a compassionate and respectful end to those who wished to stop suffering – like a pioneering euthanasia.

The little Maria lives with Tzia Bonaria, an elderly seamstress and an Accabadora, who rescued her from the streets and misery. The two aren't relatives but have a special mother-and-daughter-like relationship and this will be even when Maria, as an adult, leaves the island – because she's a “fill'e anima”, a soul daughter.

Michela Murgia, journalist and radio speaker, gives us an important and fascinating piece of her Sardinia, in a archaic, sunny, bucolic, rocky and wild dimension, far from the beach and seaside for which it is famous nowadays. It is a place aside, with its own language and its own laws, where feelings are not made explicit, and therefore it appears bare even emotionally, just like its landscapes.

Find out more

We recommend

We recommend