Andrea Lee's Bookshelf
By Alberto Moravia
When I first came to Italy, I had this book in my suitcase. Moravia is renowned for novels like The Woman of Rome, but I prefer his short stories. This collection, published in the 1950s, is composed of tales narrated by working-class Romans. They are taxi drivers, paupers, dishwashers, and they speak of love, hatred, revenge, the twists of family life, and the quirks of fate in and around the teeming streets of the Eternal City. These funny, raunchy, oddly tender stories acted as a cultural translation for me before I learned to speak Italian; they showed me that Italy, contrary to its reputation, is not a place of grand romance or earthy innocence but a place where cynicism reigns, and where, as a result, most sinners are forgiven and welcomed at the dinner table. Roman Tales is saturated with the physical atmosphere of Italy: the smell of fresh coffee, the bitter taste of fava beans, the hubbub of markets. Moravia's prose also gives the feeling of timelessness, of being somehow close to myth. "Rain in May"—the story of lovers plotting patricide—suggests that in Rome, ancient forms of tragedy lie just below the surface of daily life.