Camon, Ferdinando 1935–

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Camon, Ferdinando 1935–

PERSONAL: Born November 14, 1935, in Padua, Italy; married Gabriella Imperatori (a journalist), 1962; children: Alessandro, Alberto.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Garzanti Editore, Via Gasparotto 1, 20124, Milan, Italy. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Writer and critic.

AWARDS, HONORS: Viareggio prize, for Liberare l'animale; Premio Strega, for Un altare per la madre; Pen Club Prize, for Mai visti sole e luna; Premio Selezione Campiello, for La donna dei fili; Premio Elsa Morante, for Il Super-Baby; Premio Giovanni Verga, for La cavallina, la ragazza e il diavolo.


Il mestiere di poeta, Lerici (Milan, Italy), 1965.

La moglie del tiranno, Lerici (Milan, Italy), 1969, enlarged edition published as Il mestiere di scrittore: conversazioni critiche, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1973.

Il quinto stato, preface by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1970, translated by John Shepley as The First Estate, Marlboro Press (Marlboro, VT), c. 1970.

La vita eterna, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1972, translated by John Shepley as Life Everlasting, Marlboro Press (Marlboro, VT, c. 1972.

Liberare l'animale (poems), Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1973.

Letteratura e classi subalterne, Marsilio (Venice, Italy), 1974.

Occidente (first novel in "Cycle of Terror" sequence), Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1975.

Avanti popolo, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1977.

Un altare per la madre, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1978, translated by David Calicchio as Memorial, Marlboro Press (Marlboro, VT), c. 1979.

La malattia chiamata uomo (first novel in "Cycle of the Family" sequence), Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1981, translated by John Shepley as The Sickness Called Man, Marlboro Press (Marlboro, VT), 1992.

Storia di Sirio: parabola per la muova generazione (second novel in "Cycle of Terror" sequence), Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1984, translated by Cassandra Bertea as The Story of Sirio: A Parable, Marlboro Press (Marlboro, VT), 1985.

La donna dei fili (second novel in "Cycle of the Family" sequence), Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1986.

(Editor) Primo Levi, Autoritratto di Primo Levi, Nord-Est (Padua, Italy), 1987, published as Conversazione con Primo Levi, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1991, translated by John Shepley as Conversation with Primo Levi, Marlboro Press (Marlboro, VT), 1989.

I miei personaggi mi scrivono, Nord-Est (Padua, Italy), 1987.

(Editor) Alberto Moravia: io e il mio tempo, Nord-Est (Padua, Italy), 1988.

Romanzi della pianura (collected works; includes revised versions of Il quinto stato and La vita eterna), Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1988.

Il canto delle balene (first novel in "Cycle of the Couple" sequence), Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1989.

Il Super-Baby (second novel in "Cycle of the Couple" sequence), Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1991.

Il santo assassino: dichiarazioni apocrife, Marsilio (Venice, Italy), 1991.

Mai visti sole e luna (novel), Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1994.

La terra é di tutti, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1996.

Dal silenzio delle campagne: tori, mucche, diavoli, contadini, droǵati, mercanti di donne e serialkiller: scene e raccontini in versi (poems), preface by Fernando Bandini, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1998.

La cavallina, la ragazza e il diavolo: racconto campestre (novel), Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 2004.

Also author of preface to L'ossessione e il fantasma: il teatro di Pasolini e Moravia, by Enrico Groppali, Marsilio, 1979. Contributor to periodicals, including Stampa, Giorno, Corriere della Sera, and L'Unità.


Il quinto stato, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1970, revised edition, 1988, translated by John Shepley as The Fifth Estate, Marlboro Press (Marlboro, VT), 1987.

La vita eterna, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1972, revised edition, 1988, translated by John Shepley as Life Everlasting, Marlboro Press (Marlboro, VT), 1987.

Un altare per la madre, Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1978, translated by David Calicchio as Memorial, Marlboro Press (Marlboro, VT), 1983.

ADAPTATIONS: Movie adaptations of Occidente and Un altare per la madre were produced by Italian Radiotelevision; La malattia chiamata uomo was staged in Paris every evening for four years and was filmed by Claude Miller.

SIDELIGHTS: Novelist Ferdinando Camon has made a name for himself both in his native Italy and internationally as an insightful author of novels focusing on the Italian peasant classes and on psychological fiction. His "Saga of Those Who Are Last" trilogy has been acclaimed for its lyrical style and unsentimental look into the disappearing culture of agrarian communities in northern Italy. Camon is also well known for novels that probe the inner lives of ordinary urban characters, many of whom find help adapting to a rapidly changing modern society through psychoanalysis. Among these novels are The Story of Sirio: A Parable and Il canto delle balene.

In his early books, such as Il mestiere di poeta and La moglie del tiranno, Camon earned a reputation as an insightful interviewer. Interviewing such literary figures as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Moravia, Camon helped pioneer a technique in which interviewer and interviewee both contribute to the dialogue on an equal footing. Thus, according to Dictionary of Literary Biography essayist Angela M. Jeannet, "the dialogue is doubly revealing, for Camon conveys the sense of his own contribution to the exchange, not only by the aptness of his questions but also by the originality of his views and familiarity with the dilemmas and pleasures inherent in the process of writing."

Camon made a tremendous splash with his debut novel, Il quinto stato, the first book in the "Saga of Those Who Are Last" trilogy, which was later translated as The Fifth Estate. Because the bourgeoisie make up the third estate and the proletariat the fourth, the fifth estate refers to the peasant classes. These people have been ignored by many writers, though some, such as Alessandro Manzoni and Carlo Levi, have addressed their issues. Camon's subjects are the lower-class farming people who inhabit the Po Valley of Padua. Knowing only hard work and family as they strive to eek out a difficult life, they have become victimized by the world around them, as war and technology have destroyed their time-honored ways. Camon does not romanticize this lifestyle or its people, but he does lament the way they have been treated by outsiders. "Being a victim in Camon's world," explained Jeannet, "is to be caught in the labyrinth of history built by a foreign architect; it means becoming imprisoned in other people's versions of historical events."

Camon continues his trilogy with La vita eterna (translated as Life Everlasting) and Un altare per la madre (translated as Memorial). While in the first two books in the series the protagonist in many ways represents the entire group of people—the residents of the valley—Memorial is a much more personal vision; as Publishers Weekly reviewer Barbara A. Bannon called it "an elegy for the author's mother, a simple Italian peasant." In reviews of all the books in the trilogy, critics noted the beautiful lyricism of Camon's writing, but this becomes all the more intense in Memorial, which describes in great detail how the narrator's father strives to erect an appropriate memorial for his dead wife. Commenting that the entire trilogy is an effort by Camon to memorialize "the old ways," Washington Post Book World critic Claudio G. Segrè called Memorial, "perhaps the most moving and successful of his books." While Segrè went on to say that he found the book flawed by its "pretentious and selfconscious" style, Jeannet praised Camon's effort in the entire trilogy as an honest attempt "to be faithful to human experience in all its diversity, especially when he lends a voice to those historically silent groups excluded from the literary tradition."

In addition to his fiction about northern Italian peasant life, Camon often writes psychological novels about characters struggling to deal with a separation from culture, the collapse of the family structure, or the battle of the sexes. For example, in La malattia chiamata uomo, which was later translated as The Sickness Called Man, the main character has to come to terms with deep wounds caused by being separated from his native culture. This is exacerbated by a world in which feminism and the decline of the family have left many without a traditional base of support. He undergoes therapy to try to deal with his personal issues. World Literature Today contributor Michela Montante called the book an "intimate story" of a patient-psychoanalyst relationship that "is also a stimulating and original work which examines civilization's discontents."

Politics and terrorism have also uprooted many people in disturbing ways. This is the subject of Camon's "Cycle of Terror" sequence, which includes the novels Occidente and Storia di Sirio: parabola per la muova generazione, the latter of which was translated as The Story of Sirio. The first book in the cycle, Occidente, is about the rise of neofascism in Europe. When the novel was adapted as a film in 1976, the author was sued by neofascist leader Franco Freda, who claimed that one of Camon's characters was an unflattering portrait of him; the suit was later dismissed. The Story of Sirio follows a young man's struggles after he rejects his upper-middle-class background in search of self-identity in the 1970s. Becoming a revolutionary activist, Sirio lands in jail, becomes addicted to drugs, and eventually seeks help via psychotherapy. A critic for the Review of Contemporary Fiction described the book as "a diatribe against capitalism, and a parable in defense of the 'young.'" James Marcus, writing in the New York Times Book Review, disliked the parable format, which he felt results in an overly "grave" tone and "wooden" style, though the reviewer felt some blame could be placed on the "awkward translation." On the other hand, Rochelle Ratner asserted in her Library Journal review that The Story of Sirio is "an imaginative philosophical treatise on revolution."

Other aspects of modern life are addressed by Camon in such books as Il Super-Baby, which concerns the issue of artificial reproduction, and Il canto delle balene, a rather comical look at an unfaithful husband and his wife as they struggle with their sexual relationship. Camon has also not forgotten his interest in the working poor in northern Italy; this is the subject of his novel Mai visti sole e luna. His lament for the disappearance of a way of life is also expressed in his poetry collection Dal silenzio delle campagne: tori, mucche, diavoli, contadini, droǵati, mercanti di donne e serialkiller: scene e raccontini in versi. Here, according to Giose Rimanelli in World Literature Today, "The ever-vigilant gaze of the writer is focused upon this landscape [of northern Italy]; it is a view at times grotesque or satirical, painted with dreamlike brushstrokes, with the dissatisfaction and the disillusionment and the bloodletting that mark the end of an illusion."

Camon told CA: "I write 'in revenge.' I want to avenge country folk who are illiterate; I want to avenge the poor and the ignorant, and give them immortal glory; I want to avenge the illiterate believers, and give them the triumph of altars; I want to avenge those who feel bad and undergo analysis, and describe the psychoanalyst sarcastically; I want to avenge the human victims of the terrorists' slaughters, and describe the terrorists' ignorance and delirium. I have succeeded in this. My novels on peasants are translated in about twenty countries, my novels on terrorism have helped in detecting the terrorists who exploded a bomb in a Bologna railway station (a hundred people killed)…. Writing is power."



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 196: Italian Novelists since World War II, 1965–1995, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Bloomsbury Review, March-April, 1988, Gregory McNamee, reviews of The Fifth Estate, Memorial, and Life Everlasting, p. 18.

Booklist, October 1, 1989, John Brosnahan, review of Conversation with Primo Levi, p. 253.

Library Journal, November 1, 1985, Rochelle Ratner, review of The Story of Sirio: A Parable, p. 101; May 15, 1988, Marcia G. Fuchs, reviews of The Fifth Estate and Life Everlasting, p. 91.

New York Times Book Review, December 22, 1985, James Marcus, review of The Story of Sirio, p. 18; January 24, 1988, Susan Zuccotti, "Without Sin, Without Time," review of The Fifth Estate, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, September 9, 1983, Barbara A. Bannon, review of Memorial, p. 59; February 15, 1993, review of The Sickness Called Man, p. 217.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1987, Jack Byrne, review of The Story of Sirio, p. 261.

Washington Post Book World, May 29, 1988, Claudio G. Segrè, "Ferdinando Camon and the Cycle of the Lowly," reviews of Memorial, The Fifth Estate, and Life Everlasting, p. 4.

World Literature Today, spring, 1980, Anthony Oldcorn, review of Un altare per la madre, pp. 265-266; spring, 1983, Michela Montante, review of La malattia chiamata uomo, p. 265; spring, 1987, Gaetano Iannace, review of La donna dei fili, p. 268; summer, 1990, Peter Cocozzella, review of Il canto delle balene, p. 446; spring, 1995, Rufus S. Crane, review of Mai visti sole e luna, p. 340; winter, 1997, C. Fantazzi, review of Occidente, p. 81; fall, 1997, Rocco Capozzi, review of La terra é di tutti, p. 767; summer, 1999, Giose Rimanelli, review of Dal silenzio delle campagne: tori, mucche, diavoli, contadini, droǵati, mercanti di donne e serial-killer: scene e raccontini in versi, p. 506.


Ferdinando Camon Home Page, (July 26, 2005).

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Camon, Ferdinando 1935–

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