Pavese’s American Letters

Cesare Pavese & Anthony Chiuminatto. Cesare Pavese & Anthony Chiuminatto: Their Correspondence. Edited by Mark Pietralunga. University of Toronto Press, 2007
ix-171 + pages

For many years now the University of Toronto Press has published scholarly work by and about Italian writers, paying particular attention to modern and contemporary authors. The “Toronto Italian Studies” series has made Italian literature beyond Dante much more accessible and thought-provoking than almost any other university press. The recent English collection of the correspondence between Cesare Pavese and Anthony Chiuminatto published by the University of Toronto Press is a triumph for not only Italian literary studies, but literary studies as a whole.Expertly edited by Mark Pietralunga, Cesare Pavese & Anthony Chiuminatto: Their Correspondence is a collection of letters by the Italian author and translator seeking to understand aspects of American slang, and an Italian American teacher and musician.

The correspondence, which span from 1929 to 1933, reveals the degree to which Pavese loved North American literature and culture. Although he never traveled to the United States, Pavese did become the pre-eminent translator of American fiction in Italy. Authors such as Sherwood Anderson, Edgar Lee Masters, and Sinclair Lewis were essential to Pavese’s understanding of the usage of American English. His translations became more authentic the deeper he delved into these American masters.
These letters demonstrate how truly essential Chiuminatto was to Pavese’s development as a translator of American literature. In one particularly illuminating letter Chiuminatto declares that “I’m with you now, Cesare, so take advantage. I may be the only one you know in America—but this Buddy of yours is going to be the whole of America to you if I can!” While reading these letters it is wonderful to hear Pavese and Chiuminatto using the slang they are discussing.

One of the greatest gifts this correspondence gives the reader is a glimpse into the process by which Pavese used to obtain the most accurate language possible when translating certain American authors into Italian. Pavese’s acumen as a translator and literary critic is further enhanced by his own ability as a writer. Even when reading Pavese in Italian the tone and style come across as distinctly American. Although his correspondence with Chiuminatto deals mainly with language and problems of translation, one cannot help but think of how his own fiction would be influenced by this exchange in the future. When read against the backdrop of these letters, Pavese’s most well known novel, The Moon and the Bonfires, becomes even more of a literary masterpiece.

In addition to the wealth of knowledge these letters provide, Pietralunga also includes Chiuminatto’s explanations of slang and non-slang expressions as an appendix. This alone is worth the price of the book. Chiuminatto’s carefully laid out explanations were invaluable to Pavese. In turn they become invaluable to those of us wanting to know more about Pavese’s intellectual and linguistic process. Although one wishes that Pietralunga’s introduction be a little more comprehensive, it does provide a nice context from which the letters are drawn.

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