Translated, one learns, into 21 languages since being published in 2019 as La Straniera, Strangers I Know from Claudia Durastanti includes ample ruminations on language itself: its peculiarities, and sometimes its politics.
The social/cultural back and forth between Italian and English looms large – Durastanti shuttled between Italy’s rural south and New York while growing up, later moving to London – and then there’s the case of her parents. Both were born deaf (not so the author) and, either despite or because of this, lived uncommunicative, chaotic, sometimes violent and lawless lives that make their daughter’s literary career something of a triumph against the odds.
All of which is to treat Strangers I Know as unambiguously autobiographical, whereas the truth is less clear-cut. Durastanti made her name as a novelist in Italy, later adding translator and literary critic to her CV, and here there seems an effort to blur the boundaries between fiction and memoir: this could be read as a meta-tribute to her mother and father, who are said to both have a taste for self-mythology.
Whether constructed or remembered, there is much exquisite characterisation in Strangers I Know by Durastanti, as well as barbed and profound musings on the class system (notably in academic circles) and the implicit ableism of movie subtitles.
Strangers I Know, Claudia Durastanti [trans. Elizabeth Harris] (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Price: £12.99. Info: here
words NOEL GARDNER
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