These days it seems like the most entertaining and intriguing authors are published by Sellerio. A case in point: Carlo Flamigni (b. 1933, Forlì). Flamigni is not only a distinguished doctor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a prolific scholar, he is also a compelling and unconventional novelist.
Flamigni’s 2008 novel Un tranquillo paese di Romagna (A Peaceful Town in Romagna) is a great example of the Italian tradition of the “giallo regionale (regional mystery).” In the first few chapters, Flamigni paints a charming portrait of small-town life in Emilia Romagna as he describes amusing regional customs and introduces the serial protagonist Primo Casadei, a 50-something writer of historical texts, and his unusual clan composed of a Chinese wife, twin daughters, an 80-year-old atheist friend and a gentle giant. The family has recently moved to Primo’s unnamed hometown (referred to with three asterisks ***) in the highlands of the region so that one of the twins will have a healthy environment in which to recover from tuberculosis.
As Primo reacquaints himself with quirky townsfolk, once-feuding family and old friends, the fable-like aspect of both the town and the novel gives way to a dark, macabre reality when small children begin to disappear one-by-one, only to be found brutally murdered. Although Sicilian Inspector Fusaroli appears to lead the hunt for a serial killer, Primo is the real investigator, relying on his keen sense of observation, intuition and penchant for lengthy conversations. The key suspects in the crime are four new arrivals to the town — a priest, a teacher, a painter and a veterinarian — each of whom is harboring a terrible secret.
Flamigni does a superb job of conveying a feel for Emilia Romagna to his readers through the use of local language and customs. The novel opens with a foreboding proverb from the region: Al macello ci vanno più agnelli che pecore (To the slaughter go more lambs than sheep). Although this proverb is not presented in the dialect of the region, there is quite a bit of the dialetto romagnolo (Romagnol dialect) in the text and one example of the regional Italian of Emilia Romagna: marafone (It. tressette romagnolo; Eng. Romagnol three sevens), which is the Romagnol version of an Italian card game called three sevens.
Some of the most interesting dialect terms in the novel are related to the regional customs around names. According to Flamigni, the romagnoli are inclined to avoid e nò di sgnùr (It. i nomi dei signori; Eng. the names of the rich, i.e., pretentious names) in favor of original names that convey some sort of family message. For example, he explains that an anarchist might name his children Revolver or Libertà (Liberty), while a poor family with too many mouths to feed might opt for Delusione (Disappointment) or Errore (Mistake).
Nicknames are also extremely common in Emilia Romagna, and many of them arise when a family member deforms the given name. For the name Giuseppe, Flamigni cites no less than 35 established nicknames: Jusef, Jusaf, Jusafì, Fì, Fin, Fino, Finet, Fapin, Fapinet, Jafnein, Jafnì, Jafnò, Jaf, Jufì, Fafò, Fafì, Pino, Pinin, Pepino, Pipinì, Pinetto, Pinoti, Pin, Pinota, Pinazì, Pepo, Pipo, Pipino, Pipò, Jusafè, Jusafò, Pipet, Fafeta, Faftì and Fita.
In other instances, nicknames are formed using pet names, diminutives, pejoratives and augmentatives to denote some quality or feature of the individual. Flamigni explains that the augmentative suffix -one (big or large) added to the name of Primo’s giant friend Pavolone (Pavolo is the Romagnol version of Paolo, or Paul) is a clear reference to his tremendous stature.
The origin of many surnames in Emilia Romagna (as in the rest of Italy) also derives from a nickname given to an ancestor. For instance, an individual with a limp may have been called e zòp (It. lo zoppo; Eng. the lame one), a name that would have even been passed on to a champion marathon-runner son and then to the house in which the family lives, la cà de zòp (It. la casa dello zoppo; Eng. the house of the lame one), and eventually to the entire family. The Casadei family of the novel is known as Buschètt (It. Boschetto; Eng. Thicket or Grove), while the naming fate of other families was not so benign, such as that of the Bastardazz (It. Bastardaccio; Eng. Nasty Bastard Child) family.
Hilariously, nicknames are even given to intangible and tangible items like diseases and restaurants. Flamigni explains that the romagnoli used to refer to colera as e zengan (It. lo zingaro; Eng. the gypsy) not only because it would come and go, but also because it was evil and never looked anyone in the eye. Additionally, he says that there has long been a restaurant-tavern in a small town in Emilia Romagna that everyone refers to as Pirì ad cul rott (It. Pietro al culo rotto; Eng. Peter with the broken ass), a not-so-veiled reference to the sexuality of owner Pietro.
One of my favorite names from the novel is that of a tavern called I smunghè (It. Gli scomunicati; Eng. The Excommunicated), which sounds like my kind of place to have a drink.
In Translation: At present, there are no translations of Un tranquillo paese di Romagna. However, Flamigni says that Spanish translations of his novels are forthcoming.
On the Internet: Flamigni does not have a Facebook page, but he does have an impressive website that lists his many professional accomplishments, most notably his membership on the Italian National Council on Bioethics. One interesting detail provided on the site: Flamigni explains that his e-mail address features the surname of his family as they are known in Emilia Romagna: Tibuzzi (meaning unknown).
Personal Note: I am extremely grateful to Carlo Flamigni not only for patiently answering my questions for this post, but also for sending me complimentary copies of his mysteries featuring the Casadei family. La ringrazio tanto, professore!