Critical Mass

Former Rome Mayor Veltroni Moonlights as Novelist


Walter Veltroni has a busy life. He was elected to parliament in his early thirties, has served as culture minister and deputy prime minister, and leads the new Italian Democratic Party. Earlier this year he resigned after seven years as Mayor of Rome to run against Silvio Berlusconi for prime minister of Italy. (He didn’t make it, but still is considered p.m. in waiting. Among those who endorsed him: George Clooney and Roberto Benigni.)

Veltroni also is a journalist, editor of the daily L’Unita for six years and author of more than a dozen nonfiction books. (He wrote the preface to the Italian edition of Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope.”)

On the side, he writes fiction: he has published a collection of short stories set in Argentina, and a novel, “The Discovery of Dawn.” This first novel is actually a good book. (PW called it “captivating.”) It’s set in the 1970s, during a time when Italy was rocked by terrorism. There are magical realistic elements (narrator has phone conversations with himself as a 13 year old by calling his old number.) And a tender depiction of of a daughter with Down’s syndrome: “Stella, my Stella. I don’t know when she will ever become the master of her own sounds. I do know that now she’s turned twelve, she seems to me to be the very hub of the world. I feel she is human life distilled into its purest essence.”

In his role as first novelist, Veltroni was in New York this week to be honored at the Italian Cultural Institute and to give a reading where he was introduced by former Maryland attorney general Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Bobby Kennedy’s eldest daughter. (Veltroni wrote a book about RFK in 1992.)

At the ICI, Veltroni performed admirably as first novelist. He stood modestly while it was noted his novel has sold more than 200,000 copies in Italy and is being published around the world. He waited patiently while his remarks were translated into English. He spoke graciously about his translator, Douglas Hofstadter, who he termed a “genius.” (This is not just any translator; Hofstadter, a polymath and innovator, is a professor of cognitive science and won a 1980 Pulitzer for his book “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.” He also has translated Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” and Francoise Sagan’s “The Mad Ache.”)

To top it off, Veltroni spoke admiringly of the self-published books in Italy’s national archives, pieces of history.  And, of course, he signed books.

photo: Der Spiegel