The times of cultural revelry, hugs, and complicit handshakes in the Bellonci house are a distant memory. The friend house, as Cesare Pavese had defined it, had not been able to host the vote of the five finalists of the Strega Prize last year, because it was under renovation, and the evening had taken place at the Temple of Hadrian. This year, for the 74th edition, the coronavirus complicated the situation: the proclamation, in fact, took place on Tuesday 9 June evening again in the Temple in Piazza di Pietra, but in streaming, without the public and in the presence of only the 12 candidate authors, all equipped with mask. And with a surprise: for the first time the fifty becomes a sextin.
The five are the favorites on the eve: Sandro Veronesi, who already conquered the Strega in 2006 with Calm chaos, from which the beautiful film of the same name was starring Nanni Moretti in 2008, now with The hummingbird (The ship of Theseus) obtains 210 votes, already voted as Book of 2019 in the quality classification of the Reading of the Corriere della Sera. Valeria Parrella, with Almarina (Einaudi) and Gianrico Carofiglio with The measure of time (Einaudi Freestyle) are matched with 199 votes: a family derby in all respects. The unpublished Gian Arturo Ferrari, as undisputed publishing leader, ex Mondadori boss, makes his debut as an author with an autobiographical story, Italian boy (Feltrinelli), obtaining 181 votes. Daniele Mencarelli, also winner of the Young Witch Prize, obtains 168, joining the two Einaudi with Everything asks for salvation (Mondadori). Still a fratricidal struggle within the same publishing group, like last year?
Lacking in the top five a small publishing house, by regulation, newcomer Jonathan Bazzi is added to the list with Temperature, edited by Fandango (137 votes) who was ranked seventh behind Submerged city by Marta Barone (142 votes), published by Bompiani. Out of 660 eligible, 592 were the voters.
Only Paolo Volponi was crowned the winner twice, in 1965 and 1991. Will Veronesi, who was the most voted also by the reading circles promoted by the Dante Alighieri Society? I am not competitive – the writer says – for I must say that my book, released in October, had already met with the public’s favor. The sales had gone very well, although I am convinced that people then had a lot of time to read it during the lockdown. The protagonist of the story is my age, so in a way I tell my generation, who has not been able to do great things. I have more confidence in our children: I understood it when Greta Thunberg came out.
A story that stems from personal experience that of Valeria Parrella, in the Neapolitan juvenile prison of Nisida, where he conducted writing workshops for the detained boys: I met many young people and I was interested in telling not what they have done, but what they can do instead. And let’s not forget that where there is a guilty minor, there is a guilty adult: this is the assumption from which the narration starts.
The former magistrate Carofiglio, after reaching the final in 2012, he returns to the game with another detective, where criminal lawyer Guido Guerrieri returns to action, already a protagonist in his previous novels. Not just a legal thriller – he explains -. partly judicial drama and training novel. But I’m already working on another project: an essay, titled Of kindness and courage, in which I reflect on the method of politics.
Ferrari smiles, calls himself an elderly debutant and adds: My passage to the other side of the barricade was not planned but, if you work for many years of books, the distinctions no longer exist and you can play all the parts in comedy. On the other hand, I have been a witch voter for 35 years.
A common feature of most of the books in play, the autobiographical prevalence. In addition to Parrella and Ferrari, the personal story narrated by Mencarelli: Due to my outburst of anger, twenty years ago, I found myself in a psychiatric ward. During the week of compulsory healthcare treatment, I had a series of meetings and shared my experience with people who pushed me to tell their stories. I extend my gratitude to them. Bazzi’s story is also very private: When I discovered that I was HIV-positive – he explains – I felt the desire to tell it.
Compared to 2019, the female presence was poor: out of 12 candidates, only three writers. In addition to Parrella and Baron, Silvia Ballestra (The new season) Bompiani. As for the final battle, scheduled for July 2, the virus will continue to dictate the law: the place remains the Nymphaeum of Villa Giulia, but with a very limited turnout, obligatory masks, prohibited kisses and hugs.
© RESERVED REPRODUCTION