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Luigi Meneghello: Libera nos a Malo (Deliver Us)

The Italian title is a clever pun. The literal translation is the Latin version of the sentence of the Lord’s Prayer which, in English, is Deliver Us from Evil. However, as Meneghello comes from, and the book is set in Malo, a small town in the Veneto region, it could also be translated as Deliver us from Malo. This book is not particularly well-known in Italy (and has not been translated into English). Despite the title, the book is an affectionate, though not uncritical, look at Malo before the Second World War.

Meneghello has no real story to tell. He merely describes, comments, explains. Using humour, off the cuff remarks, digressions, commentaries, he lovingly describes a way of life which has now disappeared. Growing up is an important part of his story but so is the family – his slightly wacky uncle, for example, is treated affectionately. But the one area where he really shows his interest is the local dialect. During that period, most Italians spoke a language which was not the standard, received Tuscan dialect which we know as Italian. They spoke a local dialect version of Italian and the people of Malo most certainly do. The book is written in standard Italian but Meneghello throws in all sorts of dialect contributions – from individual words to songs and poems written in dialect, from the joke about the Count of Milan to the usual vulgarities used by boys. Indeed, it is the dialect that you feel Meneghello will miss most.

It is possible that this book will not be translated into English. Much of it would be lost in translation. In that respect it reminds me somewhat of Jean Giono, whose affectionate portraits of the French countryside lose somewhat in translation. But, if you do read Italian, you will appreciate this novel.

Publishing history

First published in Italian 1963 by Feltrinelli
First English translation 2011 by Northwestern University Press