Meeting writer Gianrico Carofiglio at the Italian Institute of Culture of Melbourne

Gianrico Carofiglio, the multi-award winning Italian writer, translated in twenty-seven languages, visited Australia to attend the Byron Writers Festival in early August.

ON the 13th August we had the opportunity to meet him at the Italian Cultural Institute (Istituto Italiano di Cultura) in Melbourne, as he was interviewed by Kylie Doust, Graduate Reseacher at La Trobe University.

The event was the launch of The Cold Summer (L'estate fredda), a crime novel just recently published in Australia by Text, though it has been in Italy's bookstores since 2016.  

The author read the first chapter from the Italian edition. The short dialogue in dialect, and the mention of the pastry 'bocconotto con la crema e marmellata di amarena', evoke the atmosphere of Apulia, details that unfortunately are lost in translation.  

Carofiglio's work has often been classified as 'legal thriller' since his first novel, Involuntary Witness, which introduced the lawyer Guerrieri, the main character of a series for which the author has won different awards and has become popular as a writer. He has created another series with a new hero, the marshal Fenoglio, protagonist of The Cold Summer, and also written non-fiction texts and coming of age novels.  

Carofiglio has learnt to be open about genre categories since the beginning of his writing career. He recalls the moment in which he read an esteemed journalist's review about Involuntary Witness. That novel was depicted as the best legal thriller ever published in Italy.  

'That was astonishing. I was happy for the huge compliment but at the same time I was a little perplexed, because for me, it was not a legal thriller. When I was writing that book I thought it was a sort of coming-of-age novel about a lawyer who is approaching his forties and everything is falling apart in his life. For me the defendant client was just a mirror of his personal crisis.'  

Although the label 'legal thriller' was at first unexpected, Gianrico got used to it.  

'After a while, I could see how that label worked, and I become much more flexible about it. If you like legal thrillers, that is!' he jokes.  

Carofiglio has explored different courses in writing as well as different career paths. He worked as a prosecutor, working in the anti-mafia committee in Bari and was elected as a senator in the Italian Parliament from 2008 to 2013.  

Writing was a hobby (his first novel was published in 2002), but at the end of his term in the Italian Parliament, he felt that his secondary activity had become his main occupation, and he tentatively left his legal career behind.

Born in Bari (Apulia), Gianrico studied for a few years in Prato (Tuscany) where he began his career in the law field, fighting against environmental crimes. He then moved to Foggia (Apulia), and later on to Bari. It is in Foggia where he grew professionally, dealing with organised crime cases that nobody wanted.  

'I had just arrived in Foggia, the youngest in the office, I had no choice,' he admits, dismissing any suggestion of bravery. However, that was revealed to be an extraordinary experience that gave him a sense of purpose and a lot of material for his writing later on.

The Cold Summer recalls the story of the carabinieri officer Fenoglio grappling with the case of a boy's murder, the son of an Apulian mafia boss.  

This is the novel that owes more than others to the period Carofiglio lived in Foggia. It's the first time that Gianrico uses real facts around which his characters move. It's the summer of 1992, the summer that no Italian can forget, that that is remembered as the summer of Falcone and Borsellino, of the Capaci bombing where the anti -mafia magistrate Falcone was killed, along with his wife and three escort agents. It's the summer of Via D'Amelio bombing, where the magistrate Borsellino was killed along with five men of his escort, a few months after his colleague Falcone.  

The Cold Summer is a story about being honest in a world where, as the author says, 'the line between good and evil is not so clear.'

Gianrico confesses that he wrote this story also because he felt the need to show something different than what fiction generally says about mafia. The latter is indeed usually depicted as invincible, something we can't do anything about. This is perception also spread among the general public, and this is something that made Gianrico angry.  

'We can (do something). We won some battles,' he claims. That summer was 'the lowest moment for the Italian institutions, but at the same time it was the beginning of the end for Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian mafia). They were fought, many were arrested, some died in jail. The situation is hugely different from the past. This of course doesn't mean that everything is fine now. The situation, especially in some territories is still very serious,' he admits. Nevertheless, he also reveals figures that are often ignored. In 1991 and 1992 there were around 2000 murders per year that made Italy one of the most dangerous places in Europe. In 2017 that number dropped to 325, making Italy one of the safest place in Europe.  

Approaching the end of the night with Gianrico Carofiglio, Kyle Doust announces that his next novel, 'Three o'clock in the Morning', will be available in Australia in 2020. This novel, published in Italy in 2017, is the story of a father and son who, forced to start a trip together, will finally truly know each other. It's an invitation to see things from a different perspective, but also a story about talent, about the fear of it and the courage to bring it forward. Regarding this topic, Gianrico quotes the American writer Erica Jong:  

'Talent is not rare, many people have talent. What is rare is the courage to follow that talent on the dark places where it leads.'  

It is certainly a lesson that Carofiglio has followed, going through those dark places and finding his light.