Andrea Fazioli (b. Bellinzona, 1978) is a journalist for Radiotelevisione Svizzera (RSI), a creative writing teacher and a prize-winning author. Although his novels contain elements of the giallo regionale (regional Italian mystery), they don’t quite fit the regional mystery mold. For one thing, Fazioli avoids the formulaic plot of the traditional mystery in favor of more suspenseful and adventurous storylines. Most strikingly, perhaps, he situates his novels in the Italian-speaking Canton Ticino of Switzerland, offering readers an uncommon glimpse of Italianness outside the context of Italy. This month I was lucky enough to be able to interview the author about his cantankerous protagonist, Elia Contini, the fascinating languages of Italian Switzerland and his plans for future novels.
In your last novel, La sparizione (The Disappearance), Elia Contini is no longer a private cop, but is instead a journalist like you. Do you have anything else in common with your famous protagonist?
Actually, we’re fairly different. Contini is more grouchy and solitary, while I’m fairly social all in all… But it’s true that you can find something in common, beyond biographical experiences, in our existential attitudes. Like my protagonist, I have a job that brings me into contact with a lot of people, but like him every now and then I feel the need to restore myself in the silence, in the contemplation of a natural landscape.
Words are the tools of the writer, and yet La sparizione (The Disappearance) is a mystery based on the loss of words. How did you choose this theme for the book?
It was a period when I felt like I was using words too easily, as though I had lost the ability to surprise myself while writing creatively. Meeting some people who had aphasia helped me to realize that every word is a small miracle. I think something, I name it, and you see the same thing with that name in your head. Poets and even babies have this perception of the power of words; but those of us who use a lot of words in our work often tend to forget the value of them. Writing about a girl with aphasia helped me to reflect on my work. Also, the idea of a 17-year-old who witnesses something tremendous but isn’t able to tell what she saw seemed fascinating to me: there are people around Natalia who help her to regain the ability to speak, and those instead who are quite happy that she’s silent. I realized that often the truth is found paradoxically closer to the silence, because it’s from silence that the most authentic, true words flow.
Your novels are situated in the Canton Ticino. In your opinion, what does Italian Switzerland have to offer that is different to the regional mystery tradition in Italy?
First of all, it’s an area of Italian language and culture outside of Italy. This kind of situation is more frequent for other languages, like French or Spanish, but for Italian they’re extremely rare. The fact that Italianness isn’t only in Italy is a sign of richness, a sign of linguistic vitality to conserve and protect. A mystery situated in Italian Switzerland isn’t only “regional,” because the Canton Ticino — like the other Cantons — is also a small State (since Switzerland is a confederation, like the USA). So the “region” is also, on a small scale, a “republic:” this creates interesting sociological, psychological and political situations. The mystery allows me to explore these situations well, even though I often prefer to distance myself from the traditional mystery, writing novels that we could define as suspense or adventure. Come rapinare una banca svizzera (How to Rob a Swiss Bank), for example, is quite far from the usual vicissitude of a homicide followed by an investigation; in fact, it recounts the story of some ordinary middle-class people who, at a certain point in their upright existence are involved in an incredible bank robbery…
The linguistic situation in Switzerland is very complex. As a writer, what does this represent for you?
Switzerland is a unique place in the world. People of diverse culture, religion, language and customs that for hundreds of years live together in a small federal State in the heart of Europe! For a writer this abundance of cultural references is a treasure, an invitation for comparison with those who are different from you. Besides, Switzerland, for centuries a crossroads of people and goods, is an ideal place to set an adventurous story…
You insert words and phrases from Swiss Italian in your writing, but you completely avoid the use of Ticinese even though it’s a vital dialect with respect to other dialects. Is there some explanation for this absence?
Actually, there are some dialect phrases in Chi muore si rivede (Look What the Cat Dragged In) and L’uomo senza casa (The Man Without a Home). But it’s true that they’re just glimpses… I often happen to mimic the syntax and the vivacity of dialect but through the use of Italian. Those who read my dialogues can perceive the moments when the language approaches dialect, assuming the cadence of it. It’s true that the Lombard-Ticinese dialect is vital, but it’s not well known in other regions, unlike Sicilian and Neapolitan that have a national renown. The Lombard dialect is perhaps the most distant from Italian in its written form and in some of its difficult sounds. Even when I’m speaking dialect at home with my family, I usually rely upon Italian, coloring it however with a Nordic patina.
What does Ticinese mean to you? And Italian?
The Ticinese dialect is a language of affection, of the family. Italian is my language, the language in which I write and usually read. It’s a language that I love and that has an intrinsic melody, a beauty that from Dante to our times has produced unforgettable works.
Last year you deservedly won the literary prize La Fenice Europa for La sparizione (The Disappearance). Does this mean that there will be other mysteries with Contini?
Not right way. For the moment, Contini and I are taking a break to reflect… Or better yet, I’m waiting to find out what will happen to him. I don’t want to write in an automatic way: if I still don’t know the destiny of a character, I don’t anticipate his story. I think that when you write it’s important to know how to seize the right moment. The next novel will come out in Italian at the end of 2012 or at the beginning of 2013. Contini won’t be in it, because there will be two other characters that have taken his place. It’s about an event far from the traditional mystery but nevertheless full of suspense and mystery. Let’s say that it will be a story of love and fraud…
Note: For more information about Andrea Fazioli, please visit his website at http://www.andreafazioli.ch. While you’re there, check out his bibliography. I know they say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but I love the look of his books, and I especially like the titles. I mean, how cool does Come rapinare una banca svizzera (How to Rob a Swiss Bank) sound? Last but not least, be sure to read my post on his novel, La Sparizione (The Disappearance). This is suspense at it’s best!
Photo: The above photo is courtesy of the author’s mother, Erina Fazioli Biaggio.