‘The Island out in the Atlantic’ by Gianni Celati

Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz and Paul Auster’s The Red Notebook, this collection of stories is presented as a series of documentary-style testimonies from ordinary people living along the river Po in northern Italy. We hear the life stories of mavericks, the displaced, mismatched lovers and holy fools searching for their roots, making amends or trying to realise impossible dreams. There is also a touch of Italo Calvino’s arithmetic fabulousness in these stories, told so dryly and all permeated with an overpowering sense of coincidence and predestination. I could have chosen any of the stories but I’ll pick the opening one, the tale of a young man who befriends via radio broadcasts a man called Archie who lives on a remote island in the Atlantic. What follows is a tale of psychogeography, self-imprisonment and re-enactment. I’ll leave it there.

In Voices from the Plains, trans. Robert Lumley, Serpent’s Tail, 1989