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Voices from the Plains (Masks) Paperback – 1 Jun 1989

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?On finishing this book one is filled with a sense of disorientation and estrangement. A strange liquid substance has spread over the eyes and washed them so that the world takes on new and unlikely shapes... Voices from the Plains is one of the most beautiful books to appear this year? Antonio Tabucchi, Il Manifesto ?After several years of silence, Celati is back with a book which revolves around representations of the visible world and, more significantly, around that profound shift from an inner towards an outer world which seems to me to be the change that most characterizes the eighties? Italo Calvino, L?Espresso

About the Author

Gianni Celati, who currently lives in Bologna, is one of Italy's most important writers. In 1990, he was awarded the Mondello Prize, the most important Italian literary award. He is the author of six works of fiction.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"For a long time now he had been without a language of his own in which to speak and write." 29 Aug 2010
By frumiousb - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Amazon tells me I bought this book back in 2001. I have to confess I'm not sure what inspired me, but it sat in a moving box until about 2 years ago. I was finally inspired to read it based on my own trip through the Po River Valley.

Even in translation (fine work by Robert Lumley) these stories are arresting. I'm not sure I have the critical vocabulary to capture what really makes this work so special. There's something in the voice here that works to distance the reader from the landscape the people inhabit. A deceptively simple way of telling stories which allows the reader in, but doesn't hide the complexity of the narration.

I was left with fierce admiration for the work, and the desire to read more by Celati. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much in print in translation.

Do read it, if you can find it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The Post-Modern Plains 12 Oct 2004
By Lucretius Borges - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Voices from the Plains" is one of the most interesting and original narrative accomplishments of the last twenty years. Gianni Celati's poignant and disarming simplicity debunks all assumptions on modern life and leads us into a countryside populated by curiously urban loners. Around the human objects he observes, Celati creates an ideological void that compels us to the most honest considerations not really on them, but actually on ourselves.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Distance 11 Aug 2011
By Roger Brunyate - Published on
Format: Paperback
The book begins with a map of the River Po from Piacenza to its delta between Venice and Ravenna on the Adriatic coast. Superimposed on it is a network of small roads, including some major cities but also tiny hamlets that can barely be found in an atlas. By the time you reach the end of these thirty very brief stories, first published in 1985, you feel as if you had walked with the author every step of the way, sitting in bars or farmhouse kitchens, and listening to the tales that he faithfully records here. It is a warm, rather old-fashioned approach in an age of electronic communication, yet the stories themselves mostly speak of disconnection, distance, and futility.

One of the early stories, for instance, follows a woman on her daily commute through pristine but empty residential communities where nothing seems to happen other than time passing. In the final tale, a group of youths, fleeing with the body of one of their friends killed in a dance-hall brawl, drive into the wastes of the Po delta, steal a boat from an abandoned military site, and continue out to sea. Two teenagers from dysfunctional families spend their weekends in Milan following random people; eventually led by an unseeing woman into an impenetrable fog in a barren field, they begin to realize that life will continue to be like this.

"A pharmacist's son went abroad to study. On his father's death, he came home to practice, becoming the pharmacist in a small place near Viadana in the province of Mantua."* This opening is typical of most of the stories: the facts laid out baldly as in a fable, none of the characters given proper names. By returning to an almost antique form, the stories examine the art of storytelling itself. But Celati does not have much to say for his profession. Suffering the ruin of his business, the foreign-educated pharmacist devotes himself to writing happy endings to the classics of tragic literature. A captured Italian officer, spending years of idleness in a prison camp in India, spends the rest of his days writing unpublishable novels about a life he has never lived, in a language learned from his reading of authors long since dead. Conversely, a student moves to France determined to become a writer; separately and together, he and his girlfriend get involved in a series of adventures, but his experiences take away all desire to write about them.

Language is an issue also. The rather beautiful opening story has an Italian radio ham communicating with another on a lonely island off the coast of Scotland, in an English that the Italian can barely understand. A man from a small village moves westward to seek work, reaching Genoa, then Nice, then Dijon; just able to get along but unable to fully understand, he assumes that he is merely moving from one dialect area to another; only when he returns to Dijon after an absence of two years and finds his own son speaking French, does he realize that there are different languages in the world. A scientist possessing the technical language to pursue a career as an international consultant, but not what is necessary to become part of the culture around him, feels at home only in airports.

Celati's message may be bleak, but the book is haunting and fascinating. Some of the stories are surreal (a truck driver in the African desert seduced by the sound of an unseen women's orchestra), Kafkaesque (an exceptionally brutal boot camp for young soccer players), or bizarre (a Genesis story as told by a patient in a mental asylum). Some are surprisingly contemporary (a woman who flees to the Norwegian mountains to escape global warming). Some are funny, as in the 19th-century peasant woman who falls sick on moving to the city because she can no longer see the sunset, until it becomes clear that she had been looking in the wrong direction! A few are even warm, as in the burnt-out writer who flees from Hollywood only to find new confidence in the conventional courtesies of his Kansas hosts. Although Celati writes so tellingly of anomie, his real subject is the human connection that could so easily be lost if we leave it too late.

*Since I read the book in Italian, this translation is mine.
excellent 16 April 2014
By Raymond - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Gianni Celati's poetic prose is entrancing, especially in this and the related Appearances. It's too bad more of his books aren't yet available in English.
Celati's Style Is One to Watch 6 May 2012
By Adele M. Annesi - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hailed as one of Italy's great storytellers, Gianni Celati spins yarns short as prose poems in a compelling parabolic style in "Voices From the Plains." The point to watch and possibly emulate in Celati's work is the seemingly effortless way he weaves characters, lives, storylines and theme -- all elements of longer fiction -- like threads in a miniature tapestry.
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