Chiara Barzini has a unique perspective – fully American and fully Italian. She’s in-store this Wed at 7:30, but was nice enough to give us a taste of her debut novel and her experiences as a multi-city, international author.
Eric Larkin – Can you tell us a little about Things That Happened Before the Earthquake and your inspiration for the story?
Chiara Barzini – Things That Happened Before the Earthquake is a coming of age story about growing up as an Italian teenager in LA during the early 90’s. In the novel an Italian filmmaking family moves to Hollywood to make it big, but they land in the city right in the middle of the LA riots. It’s a bit of an epic fail tale told from the POV of a very resilient fifteen-year old girl who gets into a lot of trouble but survives.
I did move to LA in the 90’s with my family. My father is a filmmaker, and he was escaping Berlusconi. We had a bit of a naïve approach to the city. The riots and the earthquake had already happened when we came in 1994, but it felt like loaded time, historically, culturally, and politically. There was a lot of tension and as a teenager I navigated a complicated world I knew nothing about. The book stems from a lot of those impressions. It’s a structured version of a kind of emotional landscape I have witnessed and known. Also, it’ll be fun for me to read a section of the book that takes place down the street from The Last Bookstore. It was a very different neighborhood back then, and it’ll be interesting to think about that aspect of the city as well.
EL – How did you get started as a writer?
CB – I come from a family of writers, journalists, and filmmakers. My grandfather was Italian but wrote some bestselling non-fiction books in English, including The Italians, a book that has served as a cultural translator for a lot of Americans coming to Italy. It is still weirdly relevant even though it was published in the 60’s. He was my first model. I spent my childhood in his library where he’d read to me as I sat on his lap. Those early memories of books and of the English language have been indelible.
EL – Do you do more of your writing in Italian or English? What kind of effect does your language of choice have on your writing?
CB – I do most of my fiction in English, and with film work and journalism I move back and forth between the two languages. I think both have their advantages and shortcomings. The English language can be much more direct (the Italian translation of my book has a significant number of extra pages!). It allows for more freedom of expression, and it has a certain advantage in the sense that you can be blunt in a way that would not be considered “proper” in Italian. On the other hand, Italian has a dreamy, distant, and poetic feel to it that I adore, though sadly I do not think it is suitable for the contemporary world.
EL – You’ve lived in some great cultural centers: LA, New York, Rome. Can you put your finger on any specific influences from them on your work?
CB – Well, LA, its nature, nooks, and secret pockets of light inspired my first novel; NY is where I developed my writing voice, but also the city where I took the most risks and met the most interesting people. It gave me a thirst for new faces and action. An electrical part of me developed there. Rome is where I had time to sit and make sense of it all, the years in California, the years in NY. It allowed me time and distance and especially gave me the space to write this book and raise two kids. Something I don’t think I would have been able to do had I stayed in NY or LA.
EL – Do you have any favorite bookstores in Rome?
CB – I love The Almost Corner Bookshop and the Open Door Bookshop. This last one has the wildest collection of used books. It’s really a go-to place when I need some inspiration. I know I’ll always find a treasure there.
EL – Any upcoming projects we can look forward to?
CB – I am working on a very fun film project, but we are still in a very early phase. But if you enjoyed Things That Happened Before the Earthquake, stay tuned. It involves another complicated family, a wild winter beach house, a gang of siblings, and a young teenage boy.
We hope to see you Aug 16 – that’s this Wednesday night – at 7:30.