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Gianni Rodari

Gianni Rodari (1920 - 1980) was an Italian writer and journalist, most famous for his books for children. The recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1970, Rodari is considered by many literary historians to be the country’s most important writer of children’s literature in the twentieth century.

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“Gianni Rodari gave free rein to his imagination, with inspired panache and gleeful lightness. At the same time, he had a precise and meticulous love for detail, for rich and exact language, and so all of his inventions are set in a very concrete world with real form and action.”

– Italo Calvino

"Making a comedy out of a terrorist kidnapping is tricky stuff, but this book for both children and adults is a daring highwire act that works. In the shocking tradition of Roald Dahl, this hilarious Italian fairytale is peppered with scuba diving suits, submachine guns and custom sports cars. At times antic with goofy buffoonery, at times grisly with uncomfortable realism—Rodari has a sense of comedy that smacks of the Marx Brothers, but with a darker, post 9/11 edge more in keeping with the grimmer satires of South Park."

– Shelf Awareness

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Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto

Read and Repeat: Fairy Tales for Grown-ups

12/06/11

Recently, the literary air has buzzed with chatter about “readability”: is a book that is easier to read somehow worth less than one that is more difficult? Should we automatically reward more challenging books over less trying ones?

No, I say! Definitely not, decidedly not!

Let’s look at the fairy tale. This is, incontrovertibly, a stripped-down genre: good versus bad, action and reaction. But we tell and retell these basic stories because of their simplicity and the basic vibrations they stir within us. Gianni Rodari, an Italian writer and journalist, has been most celebrated for his children’s books, but a few of his tales simply sing to us adults who long to be children again.

Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto is a simple and, yes, very readable story about a wealthy Italian baron and his search for immortality. Straying somewhat from the fairy tale model, no one in the story is particularly good (though several are particularly evil). Character depth concerns Rodari far less than character quirks, and the author’s creative capabilities construct an unforgettably charming tale. As any good fabulist knows, the story is in the details.

The charm of numbers, for example, weaves its way throughout the narrative—so deceptively simple but used just right. The Baron Lamberto suffers from twenty-four maladies, a list of which his butler frequently consults.

“The baron gets his numbers mixed up sometimes.'
‘Anselmo, I am really suffering from twenty-three today.’
‘Your tonsils?’
‘No, my pancreas.’”

Further on, twenty-four bandits named Lamberto -- the 24-L -- invade the baron’s island. They demand twenty-four million dollars -- one million from each of the Baron’s twenty-four banks. To help with this ransom, Lord Lamberto summons the twenty-four bank directors and their twenty-four assistants.

But the bulk of the story’s wonder lies in its love of words. Through repetition of his name by a very well-paid group of six strangers, the Baron realizes his dream of vitality and is reborn -- the power of a single word. Rodari, delightfully exercising the craft of comedy, illustrates our own daily neglect in our lazy pronunciations. Signora Zanzi is “very careful not to draw out the second syllable [of Lamberto], to keep from bleating like a sheep.” In general, when the staff pronounces Lamberto’s name, one cannot hear the capital L, a problem that the Baron desperately tries to resolve. Just try not to smile about that.

The story itself is, perhaps, not so unbelievable. It’s not quite science fiction or even fantasy. It’s strange enough and, yet, just slightly not-strange enough that we can begin to believe in it. The quirks, the wordplay, those are for the grown-ups. The temptation to believe in what we know is not true, that’s for the child. And is that not exactly what we want the best fiction to accomplish? Simple it may be, a quick read, certainly, but Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto delighted me in its playfulness. Rodari amended our world into one where even funerals have happy endings.

If you are looking for a book that transports you, that contains details you will return to for years to come, and that you may, someday, give to your children, it’s this one. Simple does not equal simplistic or, worse, deficient.

I am thrilled to have discovered this book and Rodari’s writing as an adult; they will both remain on my shelves, alongside the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, as a story and a storyteller that never grow old (much like the Baron himself). Readers: are there fairy tales to which you continually return? Moral tales, fables, creation stories? Do they remind you of childhood hopes, invigorate forgotten possibilities? I hope so.

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5 Comments

  1. Alex M. Pruteanu said on 12/06/11 at 8:29 am Reply

    Well, now I WANT this book, so thank you for this recommendation. I return probably yearly to “The Little Prince.” But despite his popularity w/this little book for children, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a brilliant novelist. I am his biggest fan. I go back to three particular novels (in addition to Prince): “Night Flight,” “Wind, Sand, and Stars,” and “Flight to Arras.”

    Reply

    Tiffany Gibert said on 12/06/11 at 10:14 am

    I also adore The Little Prince! Thanks for recommending Saint-Exupéry’s other novels — adding them to my “to read” list now.

  2. Alex M. Pruteanu said on 12/06/11 at 10:23 am Reply

    His downed plane (WWII) was just recently (as in ’04) found. Here, I found a blurb:

    “Parts From Saint-Exupery’s Plane Found
    April 2004
    By ANGELA DOLAND, Associated Press Writer
    PARIS – It was one of French aviation’s enduring mysteries: Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the pilot and author of the beloved tale “The Little Prince,” took off on a World War II spy mission for the Allies and was never seen again. After 60 years, officials have confirmed that the twisted wreckage of a Lockheed Lightning P-38, found on the Mediterranean seabed not far from the rugged cliffs of Provence, belonged to Saint-Exupery, Air Force Capt. Frederic Solano said Wednesday. In France, the discovery is akin to solving the mystery of where Amelia Earhart’s plane went down in the Pacific Ocean in 1937. “This was our holy grail,” said Philippe Castellano, president of an association of aviation buffs who helped authorities identify the debris. “We never even imagined this.” It was a stunning revelation: Teams have been searching up and down the coast for decades, and many experts believed the plane was probably too far out to sea to be recovered. Clues to the crash started coming together in 1998, when a bracelet bearing Saint-Exupery’s name turned up in a fisherman’s net near Marseille. Some reports said the find was a fake. “For six years, people had their doubts,” said the fisherman, Jean-Claude Bianco. “People claimed I made it myself.” But Bianco’s discovery jogged the memory of a local scuba diver, who first saw the plane debris nestled in the ocean bed in the 1980s. The diver, Luc Vanrell, pored over records of downed planes. By 2000, he was convinced he had found the right one. But it took time to get permission from France’s Culture Ministry to have the pieces brought up for analysis. The plane, smashed into hundreds of pieces, lies 100 to 300 feet below the surface, less than three miles from the coast between Marseille and Cassis. The key find was a tail piece bearing a tiny serial number, 2734 L — the same as Saint-Exupery’s, Castellano said. A piece of the puzzle remains unanswered: the cause of the crash. Theories have ranged from hostile gunfire to suicide. The debris has so far yielded no clues. “It’s impossible to say if he was shot down, if he lost consciousness, or if he had a mechanical accident,” said Patrick Grandjean of the national Department of Subaquatic and Submarine Archaeological Research. Famous for his bravery, Saint-Exupery was selected for the dangerous mission of collecting data on German troop movements in the Rhone River Valley. His plane vanished in the night on July 31, 1944, when he was 44. He has become one of France’s most admired figures, in part because of “The Little Prince,” a tender fable about a prince from an asteroid who explores the planets and then falls to earth. Saint-Exupery’s other works, which largely deal with his aviation experiences, include “Wind, Sand and Stars” and “Flight to Arras,” about a doomed reconnaissance mission. Until the euro currency was introduced in 2002, the novelist’s image appeared on the nation’s 50-franc note. In Lyon, Saint-Exupery’s hometown, the international airport is named after him. Castellano, president of the Aero-ReL.I.C. organization that helped identify the plane, said some Saint-Exupery fans resisted the efforts. They wanted to keep the mystery alive. “In the end, I think everyone is satisfied,” he said. “We didn’t find a body, so the myth surrounding his disappearance will live on.”

    Reply

  3. yrfriendliz said on 12/06/11 at 1:19 pm Reply

    This is a different choice, and I really appreciate that you shared it. Adding it to my reading list for the new year. I love playful writing and children’s books — favorites that come to mind immediately would be “The Velveteen Rabbit” or “The Giving Tree” even though they are not necessarily fairy tales. I also watched ‘Free to be You and Me’ a lot as a kid and it had stories in it that really had a huge impact on me. Also ‘The Point’!!!! Remember that one? Thanks :)

    Reply

  4. Jordan Blum said on 12/06/11 at 8:22 pm Reply

    The Book of Job always comes to mind when I’m trying to make myself or others feel better about life. It’s not that I believe it religiously (I stray as far away from that as possible); I just think it’s an excellent story to remind us of how bad life COULD be. Also, I agree that these kinds of stories are USUALLY simple, but fables and fairy tales can be quite complex. For example, most Woody Allen movies deal with the gray areas of life (of course, he makes films, but he still weaves stories within them). I think the quality depends on the complexity of the moral implications and choices. Also, I do tend to think that more complicated things, if complicated for a reason rather than for show, are more worthwhile than simple – that goes for all forms of entertainment. This book certainly sounds intricate and deep (perhaps even brilliant – I’ll have to read it to decide). There’s definitely a stigma about fairy tales being simple stories for kids, and I think one could definitely find a lot of examples to disprove that.

    Reply

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