Helena Janeczek
Cibo (food)
A novel, Guanda, March 2019, 288 pages

“Helena is a real writer.” Roberto Saviano

Food is memory, sickness, nostalgia, identity, refuge, self-love and self-harm.

I can’t stand people who do not take food seriously, said Oscar Wilde. Today it has become one of the main occupations, obsessions, delusions; the kitchen, along with the hygienic ordeal of what is healthy or not, is the buzzing soundtrack of our days. Taking food seriously, however, is another matter. Some people do it without even trying: like Elena, the woman who tells her own story in this book, and Daniela, the masseuse she turns to, to engage in a serious diet and remodel her body. What they share during their sessions is something profound. For each dish they name, for each recipe or tradition they recall, there is a memory, a friendship, a love, a family ritual. The pea cream and the krapfen at Ulrike’s parties, who back in Munich, when Elena was a child, was anorexic because of her desire for perfection; the plum bread gnocchi in Prague at Ružena’s, who became obese to ward off the nightmare of Soviet tanks and the pain of exile; Teresa’s gattò, who claims her identity with her cooking; the Sunday lunches at Daniela’s farmer grandmother and the salty herrings that awaken in Elena the memory of the Saturday kiddushes in her Jewish family, and above all remind her of her father, who disappeared too early. At the end of a novel that mixes and unites individuals and cultures, as does food, Helena Janeczek still reserves the space for reflection on a tragedy of our years – the fall of the World Trade Centre – through the stories of the chefs who worked in the towers.
An intense novel that intertwines narration and reflections, to recount restless men, common and complex women, exiles or nomads, a whole humanity with its sweetness and bitterness, memory and oblivion.

Helena Janeczek

Helena Janeczek was born in Munich, but she’s been living in Italy for the past thirty years. She made her debut with a collection of poetry, Ins Freie (1989). In 1997 she published Lezioni di tenebra, her first work of fiction written in Italian. She won Premio Bagutta Opera Prima and Premio Berto, also receiving relevant acclaim from other writers such as Lalla Romano and Erri De Luca. After that comes Cibo (2002; 2019), a fictional mosaic of stories that examine the happy or difficult relationship that women (and men) have with food. With Le rondini di Montecassino (2010) she won Premio Napoli, Premio Pisa and Premio Sandro Onofri. Janeczek partecipated in many collective works: Nell’occhio di chi guarda. Scrittori e registi di fronte all’immagine (2014), Festa del Perdono. Cronache dai decenni inutili (2014), Milano (2015), La formazione della scrittrice (2015), Dylan Skyline. Dodici racconti per Bob Dylan (2015), Il racconto onesto (2015), Con gli occhi aperti. 20 autori per 20 luoghi (2016) e L’agenda ritrovata. Sette racconti per Paolo Borsellino (2017). Her short stories La minaccia fantasma and Pochi gradi di separazione are available on e-book. La ragazza con la Leica (2017) is her fourth narrative work, and it earned her Premio Bagutta 2018 and Premio Strega 2018.
Her books have been translated in English, French, German, Spanish and Polish.
Helena Janeczek is the co-founder of the literary webzine Nazione Indiana. She contributed to Nuovi Argomenti, Alfabeta2 and Lo Straniero and to many newspapers such as la Repubblical’UnitàIl Sole 24 Ore and Pagina 99. She has worked in publishing as a consultant on foreign fiction. She coordinates the festival SI Scrittrici Insieme in Gallarate, where she lives with her son and two cats.

“Helena is a real writer.” Roberto Saviano

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