"... in war the words of a poet can save lives ...
in war the orphans and those without a book have no refuge"  

Erri De Luca's original first name was Henry, an homage to his grandmother, who had American nationality, but defined by him as an "accident". He eventually decided "to change" few letters by Italianizing his name as Erri. 
Meeting Erri De Luca at the library in my town a few days ago was something unexpectedly important.
Do you know when you have the impression that a person speaking to an audience is instead speaking to you, just to you, that those words are meant for you?
Strange enough, especially because I couldn't see his face (see picture, I'm sitting on the right). But that is what I felt sitting behind,  right behind him, behind that table on which the widely popular and highly appreciated Italian author was informally sitting while talking to us. I was at his back and could watch his shoulders slightly bent forward, his slim figure in a comfortable blue suit, moving to the rhythm of his placid voice and turning left, then right, to direct the blue-eyed piercing stare to each and every one facing him.

Born in Naples from a  father of American origins and an Italian mother, his childhood memories coincide with  WWII anecdotes belonging also to my family heritage,  as tales told at night by my grandad.
His wisdom and his outlook on life is totally Mediterranean but I can perceive some English pragmatic common sense in his words, as well as recognize a certain British aplomb in his manners. His grandmother was American, he was brought in Naples,  but he may well look a charmingly aging English gentleman. He must have north-European blood in his veins. True or untrue -  it may only depend on my fondness for everythign English - I recognized also a certain Englishness in him . 

Words are his job, words are his passion, words are his life. He told us he was not a model student, but now he is a writer, a journalist, a poet and a translator self-taught in very complex languages such as Yiddish and ancient Hebrew. You can realize how important  words are to him while listening to Erri De Luca speaking: he ponders, weighs  and delivers each of his sentences carefully, choosing the best words. He dismisses what he does, writing books that is,  humbling his mastery and defining his works as  "just little stories", "nothing I create from nothing, only anecdotes taken from real life, my life"

"Genius is wisdom and youth" says Edgar Lee Masters in one of his poems in Spoon River Anthology. Impossible to recognize that in one person? No, not when old age meets a young heart, a brilliant mind, and the outcome is an extraordinary human being, whose energy is conveyed through very special words.

Erri de Luca talked about Naples, his childhood, the tiny room full of his father's books, the importance of reading and of speaking Italian, his leaving his native town, becoming a writer, learning foreign languages, loving Don Quixote and the Bible (as an atheist) , the question of migration from Africa to Italy (he sees our country as an arm stretched out to rescue and help those desperate beings to move on toward richer countries),  what it takes to be a good journalist, and,  last but not least, about  his rather surreal but very high sense of justice.
Wrongs can't be mended, he says, once done it is useless to apologize for something wrong we did. Any form of  punishment for any kind of wrong is infertile too, according to De Luca. The only way to mend wrong-doing is never make the same mistake again; once you realize it is wrong, don't only apologize but never repeat your mistake. He knows it is impractical and utopian in a  society like ours but, he says, that is what real justice means and is to him.

For more about Erri De Luca click here, check out his works translated and published in English here
Read one of his short stories, The trench 
Visit this page dedicated to him at Rai Educational (in Italian)

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