Lia Piano
Planimetria di una famiglia felice (Blueprint of a Happy Family)
A novel, Bompiani, September 2019, 160 pages

“A graceful novel.” Chiara Gamberale, Sette

“Lia Piano has written an irresistible family novel that Italo Calvino’s Baron in the Trees would have liked for its ethereal, anarchic lightness.” Roberta Mazzanti

Their dad can design the world, challenge gravity and build a sailboat in the basement. Their mom is beautiful, wears high heels and surrounds herself with even higher piles of books. Maria, their nanny, speaks only in her southern Italian dialect, she doesn’t know how to read and has a heart bigger than the huge garden that surrounds their house. There are three children: Marco, who is dealing with the first flashes of puberty, Gioele, afflicted by an irrepressible stutter and a dangerous passion for chemistry, and Nana, who observes and tells all, even though she’s only six.

And then there’s the villa, clinging on to the hill above Genoa, in front of the Tyrrhenian Sea, where the family has just arrived after years of travelling around Europe, to try, if they can, to become normal. Of course, to do that, you would need to disperse the animals of all kinds who believe they have citizenship rights within those walls. Close the doors to prevent the wind from circulating relentlessly through the rooms. Avoid sleeping on the floor in the living room to see the full moon through the ceilings… Or maybe this is what the blueprint of a happy home looks like.

Opening this novel is like entering the big house where an enchanted childhood is possible. Then the enchantment ends, we all know, but some have the gift of staying in touch with that first light. Lia Piano’s narrative debut is surprising for the confidence with which she manages to mix memory and invention, avoiding any easy nostalgia thanks to her lightness. The humor that runs through these pages is like a rarefied gas, which also surrounds difficult things and lifts them from the ground and from the heart, to let them fly in a dimension where smiling – and smiling at oneself – is magically contagious and will even save you.

“The teacher explained to me that books were once trees, that cellulose comes from wood. Even this was not entirely true: books were still trees, and wherever you put them they took root. If there were books it meant that was home.”

 

* * *

 

“No need to fly with Peter Pan to defy the force of gravity. Not when you’re a little child – so little that your brothers call you “Midget” and you disappear into the tall grass of the yard wearing a hat with a flag so they can find you – and your father lifts you on his shoulders, takes you around wrapped in the smoke of his pipe and sometimes forgets you “on a shelf, on top of a ladder, above the fridge.”

Don’t go looking for Neverland to feel free, not when you already live in the uncompromisingly creative anarchy of an ancient Genoese house, surrounded by a garden that’s “a forgotten piece of countryside in the city,” and live there with two tenderly mischievous brothers, a loving and absentminded father and mother, four dogs and forty hens, many rats, bedbugs and cockroaches, hundreds of frogs and a single hamster. You can fly much better than Mary Poppins, if your fantastic nanny is a Calabrese illiterate who speaks only dialect, welcomes you into to her cleavage, which smells of Marseille soap and basil, punishes you with her clogs upside the head, and teaches you that to read you just need to stare at the pages and wait for the words to surface “like bubbles from the bottom of a pond.”

In this real world, more extravagant than Hellzapoppin’ and more upside-down than a fairy tale, populated by people of flesh and blood and ghosts with bronchitis to whom cups of milk and honey are left, of hens that roam through the living room and live “the isolation of the chicken coop as a burning social injustice,” Midget is inseparable from Pippo, “the dog with 100 hearts” who lends himself to wearing tube-tops and hippy skirts, or even mother’s lipstick and earrings when she accompanies her daughter on her first day of school… where they impose absurd rules like that of coloring inside the outlines of the figures or looking only in the direction of the teacher, so that her parents wonder if it might not be best to pull their children from school and keep them from becoming “three savages.”

Even though extravagance dominates, it still has its rules and its limits. There’s a good reason why father always wanders around with the meter and teaches that “the arch is a democratic system, because if all the stones don’t agree, they fall on your head.” This oddly rigorous pedagogy allows everyone to follow his vocation. It’s a house open to creatures and elements, where the wind enters to announce another family home, the sailboat skimming the waves while Midget, hidden behind the helm screams: “We’re free! We’re free!”

Lia Piano has written an irresistible family novel that Italo Calvino’s Baron in the Trees would have liked for its ethereal, anarchic lightness. It will blow you away with its hyperbolic fantasy, secret gardens, fairy godmothers and nannies with their flying umbrellas. Without any self-indulgence it describes a non-conformist household as an island of freedom. It’s a novel that knows how to be comic and burlesque, so rare in the family sagas and childhood memories by Italian authors. And yet, it never lapses into the trite staples of most comedy.

It takes a subtle mastery to give voice to a child’s point of view, to spin through memory – without getting bogged down in regrets – and enrich every page with laughter and fear, troubles and charms.”

Roberta Mazzanti
Editor and researcher in Anglo-American literature

Lia Piano

Lia Piano was born in Genova. After graduating in Literature, since 2004 she is in charge of the Renzo Piano Foundation. She lives and works between Genova and Paris. Planimetria di una famiglia felice (2019) is her debut novel.

 

 

 

 

“A graceful novel.” Chiara Gamberale, Sette

“Lia Piano has written an irresistible family novel that Italo Calvino’s Baron in the Trees would have liked for its ethereal, anarchic lightness.” Roberta Mazzanti

Foreign rights sold in
Spain and Latin America: Seix Barral
Spain (Catalan): Empúries

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