Carlo Flamigni (b. 1933, Forlì) is not only a distinguished doctor and professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, he is also an accomplished literary author. Notably, he served as President of the Società italiana di Fertilità e Sterilità (Italian Society of Fertility and Sterility), is a current member of the Comitato Nazionale per la Bioetica (National Committee for Bioethics) and was even a candidate for the Sinistra e Libertà (Left and Liberty) party in the Italian national elections of 2009. Earlier this month, I had the honor of conducting the following e-mail interview with Professor Flamigni about his literary career, his quirky characters and his views on his Romagnol dialect and the Italian language.
You’re a medical doctor and a professor, and you’ve written many important books about menopause, contraception and assisted procreation. How did the transition from academic to literary writing come about?
It was a “fortuitous circumstance.” A woman whom I was treating and who had a bookstore and a publishing house for children only asked me to write a book explaining the mystery (?) of birth to younger kids — something I did very quickly. I would have called it “Cabbage and Storks Excluded,” but the title wasn’t appealing, and so “Storia di bambini piccolissimi (Story of Very Small Children)” came out. Then in Africa I met another one of my patients who worked for Bompiani and who extracted from me a promise to write a book on medically assisted procreation. While going around to promote it, I realized that people enjoyed listening to my stories about procreation, which were based on my lectures about the history of medicine, and it took me very little time to put them together in a book that was later republished with new stories. At that point, at around 70 years of age or so, I began to think — as is just — about death, and I discovered that it really bothered me that all of my memories would die with me. So I began to pour them into books, including a novel that I still haven’t decided if I will publish.
The protagonist of all of your books is Primo (“First”) Casadei, known as “Terzo (‘Third’).” Primo’s family is an atypical Italian family: a Chinese wife, twin daughters, an elderly atheist friend and a giant handyman. What was the inspiration for this unusual clan?
No, it’s not an atypical family. It would have been before the war, but today things have changed a lot. My own family, for that matter, was fairly complex. My father was from a peasant family; my mother was a fastidious member of the middle class. But in the eyes of my father’s parents, if there was a misalliance, he was the victim of it. Romagnol peasants were very proud. Anyway, in my books there is nothing that has been completely invented. I just make sure to shuffle the cards so as to not make people recognizable.
Unlike the other books about the Casadei family, you wrote an introduction of sorts to the people, customs and places of their unnamed Romagnol town in the opening chapters of Un tranquillo paese di Romagna (A Peaceful Town in Romagna). What did this book mean to you?
I was born in the wealthiest part of Romagna. My grandparents were able to put 4 of the 8 children they had through school. I also know the poor Romagna, in the hill country, and I know the life in the small towns — petty and lacking in culture and curiosity — that young people escape from. After the war, the Romagna that I knew disappeared. Gangsters arrived who traffic in everything — women, North Africans, drugs. I tried to depict this change, with all that it entailed, from the degeneration of politics to the compromises in morals.
You wrote Un tranquillo paese di Romagna (A Peaceful Town in Romagna) with strong insertions from the dialect. In recent years, there have been a lot of mystery writers who have written books in dialect and in regional Italian. What do you think are the reasons for this tendency?
It’s important to understand what dialect means to me. Basically, it’s the first language that I spoke, in other words, that of games, of early ties — the ones you don’t break. It’s easier to delete links from a computer. I myself think in dialect, and if I’m angry, I think and speak in dialect. Last night I dreamed that I was fighting in dialect with a person that I don’t care about, and I was infuriated because he didn’t understand me. You’re doing it on purpose, I was saying to him. In dialect I say in 30 seconds the things that take me 3 minutes in Italian. And although I’m certain of what I say in dialect, because it’s a language without subterfuge, I’m not if I speak this modified Tuscan thing that is Italian — a language for diplomats, priests, whores and intermediaries of swine. My dialect is a mixture of many ways of speaking, but it’s full of the expressions of old Roman soldiers who were rewarded with a piece of land reserved for their Century on a plain near the sea — a rough and vulgar language, but very, very explicit. I would use dialect more when I write mystery novels; it’s the editors who stop me.
When you write a book, do you use dialect only to add local color to the setting, or do you use it for other reasons?
I hope that the local color comes from my description of the setting. I wouldn’t sell out my dialect for so little. Just think, people call me to read dialect poems, and I even write poems in dialect, ones that my wife won’t let me publish. No, no local color, dialect is a serious thing.
In 2011, you published with Sellerio two new stories with the Casadei’s as protagonists: the book Senso Comune (Common Sense) and a story from the collection entitled Un natale in giallo (A Christmas in Yellow*). Are there other books in the works with this wonderful family?
Sellerio has one of my mysteries to publish, but I haven’t talked to the editor about it recently, so I’m not sure if they will do it. It was supposed to be called Ama il prossimo tuo (Love Thy Neighbor), but then another book came out recently with the same title, so we’re trying to come up with another name. Meanwhile, the stories written for Christmas did very well. They were in the top 10 on the sales list for the entire month of December. And a Spanish publishing house has asked to translate my mysteries. I’m really curious about it. I ask myself what they will do with my poor dialect.
*The color yellow is used to refer to mystery novels in Italy.
Note: For more information about Carlo Flamigni, please visit his website at www.carloflamigni.it. Also, be sure to check out my post on his book discussed in this interview, Un tranquillo paese in Romagna (A Peaceful Town in Romagna).