- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Viking (June 14, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670023582
- ISBN-13: 978-0670023585
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,453,488 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Swimming to Elba: A Novel Hardcover – June 14, 2012
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“A beach read for strong-willed, independent souls.”
“Readers will devour this richly detailed, sensual bildungsroman.”
“An engaging debut.” — Publishers Weekly
“Powerful. As trenchant as it is true.”
“A galvanizing social novel, spacious and strenuous, like a film that would have been cosigned by Ken Loach and Gus Van Sant.”
“Characters unlike any you’ll find in Italian literature nowadays.”
“A book that skims close to the realm of the epic in its description of the desperate and empty lust for life of a tribe of young people and the small and vast tragedies that emerge from their struggles.”
—Giorgio De Rienzo, Corriere delle Sera
“A novel capable of holding together—in the drift or in the tragedy of many lives—the thread of a hope that springs from two young lives that may be destined to fit together.”
—Giovanni Tesio, Tuttolibri—La Stampa
“Silvia Avallone has a gift for painting a believable picture of not only her two leading characters, but of a crowd of actors: grief-stricken women, lazy factory workers, brutish thugs who frequent lap-dancing bars, young girls and boys who want to make the world their own. . . . Something verging on the operatic elegantly fills the pages of this remarkable novel.”
—Giovanni Pacchiano, Il Sole 24 Ore
“With Silvia Avallone, we are in the presence of a natural, original, and untutored talent, capable of capturing the contradictions of her own time in a rebellious, heartbreaking way. But the greatness of [Swimming to Elba], at once carnal and chaste [...] lies in the powerful way that it identifies beauty and friendship as the two decisive, all-encompassing emotions of adolescence. It is a book that demands love, in its truthfulness, in its refusal to turn away from the life-giving breath of poetry.”
—Giuseppe Conte, Il Giornale
“Avallone skillfully tugs every thread in her tapestry with an artist’s hand. . . . This Avallone is a force of nature, with her exacting, precise prose, as in the spectacular opening passages.”
—Massimo Onofri, Avvenire
“Following in the footsteps of the great tradition of a Tuscan and European author like Romano Bilenchi.”
—Davide Barili, Gazzetta di Parma
“Swimming to Elba is intelligent and well written. It deserves its success: Silvia Avallone gives us a penetrating vision of the way the new proletariat lives. She narrates that story very well. I was reminded of Tuscan authors such as Carlo Cassola and Vasco Pratolini. She is a modern writer, but you can sense those roots.”
—Dacia Maraini, Oggi
“From this first novel, [Silvia Avallone] might one day write a novel that is to literature what Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento was for film.”
—Gianfranco Franchi, Secolo d’Italia
“A masterpiece of fine writing, literature in its purest state, as if the words had flowed like molten steel out of the blast furnace, to recount perfect characters and a magnificent story.”
— Caterina Soffici, Il Riformista
About the Author
Silvia Avallone is an Italian poet and novelist. This first novel—published in Italy as Acciaio—won second place in the 2010 Premio Strega and rights have been sold in fourteen countries. She is lives in Italy.
Antony Shugaar’s recent translations include A Pimp’s Notes by Giorgio Faletti, The Nun by Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Bandit Love by Massimo Carlotto, and Sandokan by Nanni Balestrini, for which he received an NEA translation fellowship. He lives with his family in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Top customer reviews
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The funny thing is that when I bought this book I thought it was a light read about two innocent young teenaged girl friends who live in a beach town in Italy. I was actually going to give it to my mom! But I can't ever seem to give away a book without at least starting to read it... and right away, I thought, oh my goodness, this is NOT a book for my conservative, religious mom. This is NOT the kind of book I thought it was. It's about two young girls on the precipice of becoming women in a place that doesn't have anything good to offer women (or men, for that matter). Anna and Francesca are age 13 when the book opens and then they turn 14 during the story. They live in tenemant housing in a poverty-stricken small beachtown in Italy. They've been best friends since they were in diapers but some things are about to change.
These girls don't act like girls at all-- they act like women, and crazy women to boot-- and they experience every kind of hardship life has to offer. This book includes as much over-sexualization of young girls, prostitution, drug-addicted brothers and much older boyfriends, horrid, abusive fathers and co-dependent mothers that can be crammed into one novel. At time it's also similar to "Mean Girls" and Anna and Francesca ARE the mean girls. But-- and call me crazy-- as the book went on, I started to think that it WAS about what I initially thought it was about. These girls ARE innocent, if only due to their age and their naitivity. They are just only as innocent as their time and their place lets them be, because where they live, everyone has to grow up-- or not-- really, really fast.
This book reminds me of talks with my husband about choice versus destiny. At times I think I was supposed to hate Anna and Francesca but I loved them both. I think they did the best-- or the only-- things that they could do in their circumstances. Although I can't say the same about their parents and I hope that the girls can find a different destiny for themselves despite their awful upbringing. This book was a powerful and moving read for me even though at times I was left thinking "What. the. heck... I have to turn the page and see if there is any way that any of this could turn out well at all."
I give the book 4.5 stars but I'm rounding up to 5. I had some issues with it but not enough to not love it (even though some of the issues were quite major). I'm guessing that some of the problem were due to translation. Parts of the book-- especially the dialogue-- read like the awkwardly-worded sub-titles that appear in foreign Netflix documentaries. The tense changes a lot and sometimes jarringly so. The point of view jumps around to different characters' heads and can be confusing. It seems that the writer-- or the translator-- breaks all the rules (and a few times it seems that the translator even appears to make a tongue-in-cheek comment or to explain the difference in Italian versus English language or culture to the reader. What?!)
But then most of the time the language is just poetically beautiful. It was like reading a Pablo Neruda poem for 300 plus pages... with a plot thrown in. The other thing that was strange was that the reader is told so much about so many different characters-- even often from their point of view-- and it's hard to know who we are supposed to be rooting for. Likewise when certain things resolve and others don't, I felt a bit teased, as it had been built up to make me care about a character without necessarily telling me his or her ultimate fate or giving them any kind of redeeming quality or resolution. But I think the point of this book was to highlight the strong friendship between two young, vibrant girls in a town where almost everything else is almost exactly the opposite. So I think I was supposed to care about all of them, or none of them, because the point was larger than the story or the characters. My other complaint was that the ending is very rushed and jam-packed with over-the-top action. I felt that was unnecessary (and in striking contrast to the tone and pace of the rest of the book) and it almost made me dislike the book. But I still thoroughly enjoyed the depressing experience of reading it, so I only subtracted half a star.
If you still want to read this book, at least you've been sufficiently warned. Probably no one but me would like it. But I devoured it and would happily read a sequel or anything else by this author, although sadly I think this book is the only one.
Anna and Francesca are the main characters, best friends, teenage girls, they do absolutely everything together. But there are aspects of each other's lives that can't be shared, things that go on beyond closed doors.
They live in a town where the steel mill is the main employer and drugs, teenage sex, crime and abuse are the norm. There is little hope for the future and meager incentive for self-improvement.
The author paints a wonderful picture of summer in Piombino, Italy - the heat, the atmosphere, the oppressive feel of a run-down seaside town, tenement buildings and the desperate need to BE someone. As the two girls develop into young women over this long summer, their friendship is tested, along with their morality and their family ties.
I wanted to like Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone soooo badly.
But I know very clearly why I dislike it. It wasn't for me. Let me explain.
Anna and Francesca are the best of friends. They live in a poor town in Italy, but they are everything anyone would ever want: beautiful, sexy, popular. . . and they throw it in everyone's faces. They also are 13 years old.
As they enter high school and learn more about themselves their friendship changes.
I love the aspects of friendship and change, even the snottiness with the popularity.
But I couldn't stand all the sexuality. They are YOUNG teens! I know it happens, but I don't want to read about it. And the drugs. . . all over the place in their town. It was just a little too dark at too young of an age for my liking.
Maybe you'll feel differently.
Thanks for reading,
Rebecca @ Love at First Book
In Piombino, drug addiction is prevalent, abuse is frequent, and criminal activity is routine. I don't believe I've ever read about more despondent characters.
This novel nearly suffocated me with it's hopelessness. It made me uncomfortable as well. Reading about these young girls using their sexuality left me feeling squeamish.
While Swimming to Elba is far from a cheerful story I found it powerful and important. Anna and Francesca are still on my mind. They won't soon be forgotten.
Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader
Most recent customer reviews
This novel deals with so many overwhelming themes: poverty, drugs, sex,...Read more