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Thursday Quotables – Mammarella

If I could, this is what I’d say: my name’s Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi and I see the dead.

If I’d ever say it, people would stare at me, nodding their heads, worried. They would consider their options for run, or how much time they would need to get help. Maybe they’d chuckle, uncertain, but with a pale fear in their eyes. When you talk about death, people are always afraid.

Especially now, with strange individuals who have changed the calendar and call ninth year what is actually 1931, kicking they feet in the air as they march. Fear has take up so many different colours, and one who goes around saying he can see the dead may end up in jail – or in the army, as a general.

But anyway, I just don’t say it. To anyone. I’ve never had.

quotation-marks4I know Maurizio De Giovanni has been translated into English, but since I haven’t found a version of this short story in English, I’ve translated this passage by myself. I hope it’s adequate.

De Giovanni is from Naples and has written a series of short stories and novels set in Naples during the Fascism. His protagonist, police delegate Ricciardi, possesses the gift (or the curse) to see the dead, ghosts that appear to him in the moment they died, repeating again and again the last thought that crossed their minds when they were killed. They linger for a time – sometimes days, sometimes months – and if Ricciardi can hear their voices, it may help him solve their murder. That’s why he became a police men in the first place.

I’ve read the first three short stories De Giovanni wrote (gathered in the anthology L’omicidio Carosino) and enjoyed them, especially this one, Mammarella, the only one written in the first person. The first two give a good feeling for the character and the set, but the third really has a voice. There’s a personality here, filtering through in the choice of words, in the sound of the language. Even Naples takes up a stronger personality when described by Ricciardi himself. I really really like it. And I think voice is so important here because of course you can’t build a complex mystery in just a few pages. The characters are the key for a successful mystery short story, in my opinion, and the voice of the POV character is so fundamental in getting feelings and impressions across.

In case you’re interested, this is the original passage.

omicidio carosinoPotessi dirlo, direi così: mi chiamo Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, e vedo i morti.

Se lo dicessi, mi guarderebbero fisso, accennerebbero di sì con la testa, preoccupati, valutando la via di fuga o i tempi necessari per ricevere un aiuto. Farebbero forse un’incerta risata, ma negli occhi probabilmente manterrebbero una vaga paura. Quando si parla di morte, la gente ha paura.

Di questi tempi, poi, con gli strani individui che hanno cambiato perfino il calendario e chiamano anno nono il millenovecentotrentuno, e camminano tirando calci all’aria, la paura ha tanti colori; e uno che va dicendo che vede i morti, magari lo sbattono dentro, oppure lo arruolano e lo fanno generale.

Comunque, io non lo dico. A nessuno. E non l’ho mai detto.


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