Magazine article World Literature Today

La Superba

Magazine article World Literature Today

La Superba

Article excerpt

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer. La Superba. Trans. Michele Hutchison. Dallas, Texas. Deep Vellum. 2016. 400 pages.

Anti-Europeans will see this extraordinary book as a knowing critique of a spoiled, corrupt, and quarrelsome lot of countries; pro-Europeans will admire its wit and its love of place and history. Inevitably, some will dislike its cruel mockery of intellectual and moral ambitions and its bizarre take on sex and growing old, all of which forms part of a whole, abundantly rich in provocative thought.

The book is set up as a "literary" work, a novel of letters, elegantly penned by "Ilja Pfeijffer," a Dutch exile in Genoa, to his "dear friend" and publisher in Amsterdam. The letters recount an interlinked series of short stories drawn from life in the old port city-La Superba-where vagrants and eccentrics cling to existence in medieval tenements and in café-bars around tiny squares in front of Renaissance churches; the modern, peripheral bits of Genoa, where settled people live, do not interest Ilja.

His vignettes illustrate an old, local culture in which the show matters more than the finer points of the script and family more than society; where honesty ranks much lower than the ability to make people laugh or cry. …

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