One of Italy’s most acclaimed novelists and an established writer in Arabic and Italian, Amara Lakhous is an outstanding example of a novelist, essayist, public intellectual, translator, and navigator between and among very different cultures. Born in Algeria, Lakhous emigrated to Italy where he spent almost two decades as an interpreter and journalist while completing a Ph.D thesis in Humanities at the University of Rome on Muslim immigrants in Italy. At the same time, he expanded the topic of his doctoral dissertation – and indeed, the story of his own life – into contexts more informal and creative than an academic monograph: screenplays, short stories, and, especially, novels. His training in ethnography has been vital to his fiction. His extensive research into the cities and communities of Rome and Turin enabled him not only to focus on individual histories, dialects, and perspectives of members of migrant communities long ignored, but to vividly bring them to life in what Madeleine Dobie calls his “brilliant, funny novels.” Indeed, according to Pulitzer-Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, Lakhous “has transformed the Italian literary landscape” precisely by “conveying the reality of a transforming Italy.”
Lakhous’s first major novel in Italian, Scontro di civiltà, stages the “clash of civilizations” by way of the soliloquies of some dozen characters who live near Piazza Vittorio in Rome yet who are not, for the most part, from Rome. The distinctive voices that emerge and the allusions to contemporary Italian politics, sports, and music have made Scontro fertile ground for film and the stage, and a natural for prestigious awards. Lakhous’s subsequent novels are likewise polyphonic, featuring multiple narrators who interrogate cultures as well as cultural stereotypes. Divorce Islamic Style and Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet, while written with Lakhous’s unique brand of humor and sensitivity, increasingly refer to the historical layers that lie beneath Italy’s and Europe’s conflicted response to foreignness.
In his most recent novel, The Night Bird, long-listed for the International Prize in Arabic Fiction (2021), Lakhous relies on Algerian history as background and Leonardo Sciascia as inspiration and model. In this first of a projected trilogy, he develops ‘darker’ themes, as David Forgacs reminds us.
Currently, Lakhous is working closely with his translators—Alexander Elinson (English) Lotfi Nia (French) and Francesco Leggio (Italian)—so as to translate and rewrite the original version of The Night Bird in Arabic, an experiment in collaborative and translingual practice that enables each language to infect and improve the others.
Other recent honors include one of the highest recognitions that Italy confers: Honorary Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy.
ITAL 206: How to Write a Short Story like Pirandello
This course is built around two propositions. First, the best way to master the craft of writing fiction is through reading and writing short stories. Second, there are no orphans in literature: Every writer has been influenced by other writers. Learning from masters is fundamental in all crafts. Looking for inspiration and expertise in Italian Literature, there is no doubt that Luigi Pirandello (winner of the Nobel Prize in 1934) is one of the most original writers in the world. In this course, we read and listen to the best of Pirandello’s short stories. Also, we study both his style and world vision. In this class, we utilize a workshop setting and use these short stories as creative and linguistic models to improve our own writing and linguistic skills.
Prerequisite: ITAL 140 or equivalent. 1 credit for Yale College students.