Marcello Fois (b. 1960, Nuoro) is a Sardinian-born author, playwright and scriptwriter for radio, TV and film. In his 1998 novel Sempre caro (Always Dear) (Frassinelli-Il Maestrale), Fois blends historical fiction, noir and reality to depict the fictional experiences of attorney and poet Bustianu Satta in late nineteenth-century Sardinia. Fois quite literally took Bustianu from the pages of history, borrowing the iconic figure of attorney-poet Sebastiano Satta (1867-1914) from his hometown of Nuoro for the novel. Notably, Sempre caro won the Premio Scerbanenco, Italy’s top literary prize for mystery novels, and also received the praise of renowned author Andrea Camilleri, who describes this rural mystery as a perla rara (rare pearl).
Sempre caro centers on the puzzling case of Zenobi Sanna, a handsome young teraccu (Ital. servo; Eng. servant) accused of sheep rustling. Zenobi’s mother begs Bustianu to represent her son, but he is reluctant to do so because Zenobi has gone on the run in the Sardinian countryside, making it impossible to meet with him. Further complicating the situation, Zenobi appears, inexplicably, to be destroying evidence that proves his innocence. Meanwhile, people associated with Zenobi are turning up dead, and the authorities have branded him a bandit. The political climate in Italy is particularly harsh for criminals as the country struggles to forge the bonds of nationhood and bring the rule of law to its outlying regions. Bustianu realizes that he must turn investigator to help Zenobi before it’s too late.
The language of Sempre caro complements the story beautifully, as Fois mixes Sardu (Ital. Sardo; Eng. Sardinian) with Italian to represent the clash of these two cultures following the national unification of 1861. As reflected in the novel, the Sardinian language is largely unintelligible to Italian speakers, mainly because it is an official Romance Language that is unrelated to Italian. But Sardinian is also the most conservative of all the Romance Languages, which means that it has evolved the least from Latin.
Because the novel is set in Nuoro, Fois incorporates the local dialect Sardu Nugoresu (Ital. Sardo Nuorese; Eng. Nuorese Sardinian). The Nuorese featured in the text consists primarily of lexemes and short phrases describing people, clothing and food, as well as entire sentences uttered in dialect. As the examples below indicate, Sardinian, like the character of Zenobi and the culture of the island, has a wild, mysterious and often impenetrable quality.
pitzocca (Ital. ragazza; Eng. girl)
Così, appena la pitzocca sparisce con passo svelto svelto fuori dalla sua vista, Bustianu se ne torna verso casa.
So, as soon as the girl disappears at a brisk pace from his sight, Bustianu returns toward home.
mere (Ital. padrona; Eng. mistress)
Per non parlare di donna Dolores che faceva la signora, la gran dama e sembrava la mere e domina di tutti.
Not to mention Lady Dolores who was a matron, a grande dame and seemed to be the mistress and proprietress of everyone.
mucadore (Ital. grembiule; Eng. apron)
franda (Ital. fazzoletto; Eng. handkerchief)
Allora la mamma come ha potuto si reca dae Bustianu, tutta ben messa col mucadore ricamato e la franda di velo…
So his mother, as she could, goes to Bustianu’s office, all decked out with her embroidered apron and tulle handkerchief…
berritta (Ital. berretto; Eng. beret)
Tanto infallibile che persino Corbeddu di Oliena* si levava la berritta solo a nominarlo.
So infallible that even Corbeddu from Oliena* would raise his beret at the mere mention of his name.
*A famous Sardinian bandit (1844-1898).
pane carasau (Ital. carta musica; Eng. literally, music paper; a thin, cracker-like bread)
casizolu (Ital. caciocavallo; Eng. a stretched curd cheese from Southern Italy)
E lui caricandosi in spalla il basto croccante di pane carasau e gonfio di casizoli aveva detto lo faccio per te.
And he, loading onto his back the pack-saddle crisp with bread and swollen with cheeses, had said, ‘I’m doing it for you.’
filindeu (Ital. pasta; Eng. pasta)
Così tzia Rosina gli aveva scaldato il filindeu, e gli aveva preparato la tinozza di acqua calda perché si lavasse e gli aveva stirato camicie e biancheria pulita a poi, poco prima di salutarlo, gli aveva chiesto quando.
So Aunt Rosina had warmed the pasta for him, and she had prepared the washtub of warm water for him so that he could wash, and she had ironed his clean shirts and undergarments, and then, just before saying goodbye to him, she had asked him when.
Ca issu* fit bellu pro nàrrere bellu, ma issa* puru!
Che egli era bello per dire bello, ma ella pure!
Because he was handsome and I mean handsome, but she [was] too!
*From the Latin pronoun ipse, ipsa; Ital. se stesso, se stessa; Eng. himself, herself but used in Sardinian to mean Ital. egli, ella (or the standard Ital. lui, lei); Eng. he, she
Insomma fàchere* birgonza pro carchi anzone…
Insomma fare vergogna per qualche agnello…
Well, to bring shame for a few lambs…
*From the Latin verb facere; Ital. fare; Eng. to do or make
Sin ‘che deppíana línghere sos pòddiches*!
Fin che doveva leccare le dita!
As long as he had to lick his fingers!
*From the Latin noun pollice; Ital. pollice; Eng. thumb but used in Sardinian to mean Ital. ditto; Eng. finger
Sempre caro is one of those uniquely Italian novels that underscores the need to introduce readers (both native and non-native) to the many local, authentic languages of Italy. The Sardinian language, with its roots still strongly embedded in Latin, reflects the ancient and untamed quality of the island and its culture, while the Italian, which was standardized by the government for unificatory purposes, exemplifies the nationalistic goals of the modern State. The juxtaposition of these two vastly different languages to depict both the seeming impossibility of “making Italians” following unification and the legal plight of a young Sardinian during this tumultuous period is at once a necessary literary device and a stroke of literary genius.
Note: In the novel (and presumably in life), the Socialist Bustianu values two things: helping others more than making money and taking his sempre caro (this is what he calls his solitary nature walks) more than socializing and mindless tzarra (Ital. chiacchiera; Eng. chatter). So if you admire Bustianu as much as I do, you’ll be glad to hear that Sempre caro is the first of a trilogy that includes Sangue dal cielo (Blood from the Sky) (Frassinelli-Il Maestrale, 1999) and L’altro mondo (The Other World) (Frassinelli-Il Maestrale, 2002).
In Traduzione: Not surprisingly, Sempre caro has been translated into numerous languages (I would love to see how the various translators handled the mixing of Sardinian and Italian in their own languages). Patrick Creagh translated this novel into English under the title The Advocate: A Sardinian Mystery (Vintage, 2004). Creagh’s translation is apparently as amazing as the original, because it was nominated for the 2003 Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Award, a prestigious prize for crime, thriller, suspense or spy fiction novels that have been translated into English.
On Facebook: Marcello Fois is on Facebook, but his fans created his page. For more information about Fois, visit the Camilleri Fans Club website. Although this site began in homage to Andrea Camilleri, it has become a terrific resource for those interested in quality Southern writers like Fois.