An Interview with Andrea Camilleri

by Andy Edwards | Jan 29, 2014

Andrea_Camilleri_2010_by_Marco_Tambara
Andrea Camilleri
by Marco Tambara

      Andrea Camilleri came late to literary fame, after a distinguished career in theatre and film direction. His first novel, Il corso delle cose, wasn’t the spark that ignited the blue touch paper of success, that would only happen in the early 1990s with La stagione della caccia, and even more significantly, with the first of his Montalbano series, La forma dell’Acqua (The Shape of Water). The trajectory ever since has been nothing but up. Millions of copies of his novels have been sold across the world, including translations appearing in Japanese, Polish, Turkish and Swedish to name but a few. To many people Camilleri is synonymous with his most famous creation, Salvo Montalbano, but he is also the author of well-respected historical novels and essays.

The heart of his fictional Sicilian world is centred on Vigàta, closely identified with his home town of Port Empedocle near Agrigento, which also makes a veiled appearance under the Pirandellian name of Montelusa. The commonly associated locations of Ragusa, Scicli and Modica in the Val di Noto and Punta Secca on the south western coast are due to the on-going success of RAI’s television adaptation. Camilleri writes his Vigàta-based books in an Italian laced with Sicilian dialect, a hybrid language he grew up hearing, a tricky concept for any translator. He has done more that most to project Sicily onto a world stage.

Q. You have played and continue to play a really important role in the increasingly widespread interest foreigners take in Sicilian culture. There are also organizations and web sites like Arba Sicula and the Times of Sicily who are working towards the aim of creating a positive image of Sicily abroad. In addition, there are Sicilians abroad or second generation Sicilians, although perfectly well-integrated into their “adopted” culture, who are engaged in rediscovering or promoting their Mediterranean origins. Do you think that, at times, these Sicilians have more of a sense of patriotism than those who live in Sicily?

Not just Sicilians, I think that all those who are far from their homeland, even more so if they have been forced to move away perhaps to find work, have an idea of home that diverges a great deal from the truth of the country they left behind. Everything becomes idealized, the loved one who has left us is idealised, just picture the country of our childhood! Even my Sicily is to a certain extent idealized!

Q. If I were a foreigner with no idea about Sicily, but I had read your first Montalbano, what idea would I form of the island?

Really, I’m not the one able to answer that question. I am often asked about what remains of my writing, even after a translation that can’t necessarily remain faithful to the way in which I write. For sure the unexpected success abroad makes me realize that many translators are doing an excellent job.

Q. A sense of humour is omnipresent in your work. Is it surprising that a humour so localized and tied to its own territory succeeds in being understood and enjoyed by an overseas public, how do you think that’s possible?

Well because a sense of irony is common to many. Otherwise, how would you explain the success of Stan and Olly or the theatre of the absurd or Mickey Mouse. Obviously I can’t compare myself to these giants, but throughout my life I have always tried not to take myself too seriously.

Montalbano Statue
Montalbano Statue
by Suzanne Edwards

Q. I have visited the town of Porto Empedocle and seen the statue there of Montalbano with hair and a moustache. Yet, on the television Zingaretti is obviously bold. In your books there are few passages in which you give the reader clues about the character’s physical appearance. This leads others to make different suppositions in this regard. For your part, do you have a precise image of your detective?

I certainly do, my Montalbano has a thick head of hair, a moustache and a wart on his nose… nothing to do with Zingaretti who, however, is the best Montalbano possible!

Q. Speaking of the television series, what do you think of Il giovane Montalbano (Young Montalbano)? Does this series reflect your version of the Inspector’s youthful years?

Absolutely yes, I find the actor very skilful and I think that the films have been truly well dramatized.

Q. Intertextuality has a prominent role in some of your books. You like making reference to other texts. It has been said that in the last book in the Montalbano series, in an act of self-reference, Montalbano himself realizes that he is a character. Is there any truth to this?

Yes, there are many stories doing the rounds about the last Montalbano, I can only say that I have chosen to end in a literary way.

Q. Your Inspector has created a real cultural industry which actively produces tourist guides, tours, doctoral research, etc. What do you think of all this?

I can’t explain it, it surprises me and I’m extremely happy about it.

Q. Your Montalbano series of books has been a great success in the English-speaking world, but you have also written a large number of other texts, novels, essays that haven’t yet been translated into English. Would you like to see any one of these translated in particular?

Certainly, I would very much like my historical novels to be and am genuinely pleased that they are starting to be translated into English.
Thank you very much.
AC

Here is the Italian version of the interview

D. Lei ha giocato e gioca un ruolo davvero importante nel sempre più diffuso interesse degli stranieri nei confronti della cultura siciliana. Ci sono anche organizzazioni e siti web come Arba Sicula e Times of Sicily che lavorano per dare un’ immagine positiva della Sicilia all’estero. Inoltre all’estero sono proprio i siciliani o siciliani di seconda generazione che pur essendo perfettamente integrati nella cultura “adottiva” si impegnano per recuperare e promuovere le loro origini mediterranee. Le sembra, a volte, che questi siciliani abbiano più senso patriottico di quelli che abitano in Sicilia?

Più che i siciliani, credo che tutti coloro che sono lontani dal loro paese, ancor più se sono stati costretti ad allontanarsi magari per cercare lavoro, hanno un’idea del paese che lasciano assai diversa dalla verità del paese che hanno lasciato. Si idealizza tutto, si idealizza un grande amore che ci ha abbandonato, figuriamoci il paese della nostra infanzia! Anche la mia Sicilia è in qualche modo idealizzata!

D. Se io fossi stato uno straniero senza nessuna idea della Sicilia, ma avessi letto il suo primo Montalbano, che idea mi sarei fatto dell’ isola?

Guardi non sono io a poterle rispondere, mi sono chiesto moltissime volte cosa resta di quello che ho scritto, magari dopo una traduzione che necessariamente non può tener fede al modo in cui scrivo. Di sicuro il successo insperato all’estero mi fa intuire che molti traduttori fanno un ottimo lavoro.

D. Il senso dell’ umorismo è onnipresente nelle sue opere. Ed è sorprendente che un umorismo così circoscritto e legato al proprio territorio riesca a essere compreso e divertire il pubblico straniero, com’è possibile secondo lei?

Bhè perché il senso dell’ironia è comune a molti. Altrimenti non si spiegherebbe il successo delle comiche di Stanlio e Ollio o del teatro dell’assurdo o di mickey mouse. E’ evidente che non posso paragonarmi a questi mostri sacri ma ho sempre cercato in tutta la mia vita di non prendermi troppo sul serio.

D. Ho visitato la città di Porto Empedocle e lì ho visto la statua di Montalbano con i capelli ed i baffi. In televisione invece Zingaretti è chiaramente calvo. Nei suoi libri ci sono pochi passi in cui lei fa intuire ai lettori l’aspetto fisico del personaggio. Questo porta chi la segue a fare diverse supposizioni in merito. Lei da parte sua ha o non ha un’immagine precisa del suo detective?

Certo che ce l’ho, il mio Montalbano ha molti capelli, baffi e un porro sul naso…niente a che vedere con Zingaretti che però è il miglior Montalbano possibile!

D. Riguardo alla fiction televisiva, che cosa pensa del giovane Montalbano? Riflette bene la sua versione degli anni giovanili del commissario?

Assolutamente sì, trovo molto bravo l’attore e credo che i filmati siano stati sceneggiati veramente bene.

D. L’intertestualità ha un ruolo di primo piano in alcuni dei suoi libri. Le piace fare spesso referimenti ad altri testi. È stato detto che nell’ultimo libro della serie Montalbano, in un atto di auto-riferimento, Montalbano stesso si accorge di essere un personaggio. C’è del vero in tutto questo?

Sì, girano tante storie intorno a questo ultimo Montalbano, posso solo dire che ho scelto di chiudere in modo letterario.

D. Il suo commissario ha prodotto una vera e propria industria culturale che attivamente produce guide turistiche, tour, dottorati di ricerca, ecc. Che cosa pensa di tutto ciò?

Non me lo spiego, me ne sorprendo e ne sono estremamente felice.

D. La sua serie di libri sul commissario Montalbano ha un grande successo nel mondo anglofono, ma lei ha scritto anche un gran numero di altri testi, romanzi, saggi che non sono ancora stati tradotti in inglese. Le piacerebbe vedere tradotto uno di questi in particolare?

Certo, tengo moltissimo ai miei romanzi storici e sono sinceramente felice che inizino a venir tradotti in inglese.
Grazie mille
AC

His other works are already popular in countries like Spain and France, let’s hope they soon appear in English.

At the time of writing, Andrea Camilleri has written 32 books with Commissario Montalbano as the main protagonist, including collections of short stories and a collaboration with Carlo Lucarelli (Acqua in bocca), which has Salvo working with Lucarelli’s Inspector Grazia Nero. The latest in the series, Un covo di vipere (A Nest of Vipers) has yet to make it into English translation. Those who want to follow Salvo’s footsteps could do a lot worse than get a copy of the excellent guide published by Sellerio, I luoghi di Montalbano. Our own humble offering, soon to be published, Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers also contains a few suggestions. I would also like to say a big thank you to Rossana Cherici for being the sounding board for my questions.

Andrew Edwards

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Andrew and Suzanne Edwardshttps://www.lettersfromthemed.co.uk
In addition to freelance writing, Andy and Suzanne both work in education. Andy is also a translator who gets most enjoyment from translating literary works and Suzanne is a lecturer and linguistics graduate. They are frequent visitors to Sicily and have spent a great deal of time exploring its back roads in search of the landscapes that inspired the imaginations of many writers, both Sicilian and from overseas. Literature, art, food and society are their focus and their passion. Sicily has it all. They are the authors of the books - Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers, Andalucia: A Literary Guide for Travellers, His Master's Reflection: Travels with John Polidori, Lord Byron's Doctor and Ghosts of the Belle Epoque: The History of the Grand Hotel et des Palmes, Palermo. Andy is the translator of Borges in Sicily and Federico De Roberto's Agony. They are currently writing about Coleridge in Malta and Sicily.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Great story telling, can’t get enough of it.
    My wife and I visited Sicily last September/October and in many ways it was like reading one of your novels.

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