Cotroneo, Roberto 1961–
Cotroneo, Roberto 1961–
PERSONAL: Born May 10, 1961; children: Francesco, Andrea. Education: Studied piano and philosophy.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore SpA, Via Mondadori, 1, 20090 Segrate, Milan, Italy.
CAREER: Journalist, critic, and writer. L'Espresso, culture editor, 1994–. Columnist for L'Unità and Panorama; has worked as a writer for Italian periodicals, including L'Europeo.
AWARDS, HONORS: Received the Selezione Campiello.
All'indice: sulla cultura degli anni Ottanta, Armando (Rome, Italy), 1991.
Se una mattina d'estate un bambino, Frassinelli (Milan, Italy), 1994, translated by N.S. Thompson as Letters to My Son on the Love of Books, Ecco Press (Hopewell, NJ), 1998.
La diffidenza come sistema: saggio sulla narrativa di Umberto Eco, Anabasi (Milan, Italy), 1995.
Presto confuoco (novel), A. Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1995.
Otranto (novel), A. Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1997.
(Editor) Giorgio Bassani, Opere, A. Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1998.
L'età perfetta (novel), Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 1999.
Eco: due o tre cose che so di lui, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 2001.
Per un attimo immenso ho dimenticato il mio nome (novel), A. Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 2002.
Chiedimi chi erano i Beatles: lettera a mio figlio sull'amore per la musica, A. Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 2003.
Questo Amore (novel), A. Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 2006.
Also contributor to periodicals, sometimes under the pseudonym Mamurio Lancillotto, including Micromega and La Rivista dei Libri.
SIDELIGHTS: Roberto Cotroneo is an Italian journalist and author whose novels downplay plot and character for the sake of their intellectual themes. Presto con fuoco, his first work of fiction, is, on its surface, about an aging concert pianist and his discovery of a previously unknown version of Chopin's Fourth Ballade in F Minor. The author experiments with narrative and temporal shifts as the pianist yearns for a woman very much like the person who inspired the Chopin composition of the title, and the boundaries between past and present blur. Charles D. Klopp, writing in World Literature Today, observed that Cotroneo, "like [Umberto] Eco,… is interested in the elaborate and often complex systems of semiotic links that lie between signifiers and signified." The critic went on to call Presto con fuoco a "splendid … homage to the romantic age." "The intellectual single-mindedness [of this novel]," concluded Anna Laura Lepschy in the Times Literary Supplement, "may be affected and chilly, but there is something absorbing about a study in which music and its correspondences with other arts and human passion pervade existence."
In his second novel, Otranto, Cotroneo seems to take a more conventional approach, writing a story about an art restorer named Velli, who travels to the city of the title to revive a twelfth-century mosaic. In addition to this plot, Velli is also seeking to learn what happened to her mother, who disappeared years before. "This private story is played out against the background of Otranto's history," added Klopp in another World Literature Today article, "in particular the massacre of eight hundred citizens at the hands of a marauding Turkish fleet that conquered the city in 1480." All these elements are combined by the author in what Klopp described as "a lucid yet hallucinatory manner in which fantasy and reality, nightmare and everyday life, madness and sanity are often two aspects of a single entity." The end result, explained the critic, is a "complex reflection on persistent problems of identity and ontology."
Interpretation, according to Klopp, is a central concern in Cotroneo's fiction, and this theme is extended through the author's L'età perfetta. A central character in this novel is a teacher who comes to a small Italian village to teach Latin and Greek. His liberal attitudes toward sexuality bewilder and upset the local residents, a theme that is embodied by his interpretations in class of the biblical Song of Songs, as well as through his seduction of the teenaged student, Nunzia. As Klopp, who declared the book an "astute and chastely written novel," explained, Nunzia and her teacher's actions violate the villagers' code in which "beauty, like intelligence or perhaps artistic talent, is viewed as a disorder that threatens conventional orders of whatever kind."
Cotroneo's novels have not yet been translated into English, but his nonfiction Se una mattina d'estate un bambino has been published as Letters to My Son on the Love of Books. Critics of this collection of four essays were somewhat confused about the intended audience. Because the author's son, judging by the text, is about four or five years old, the reviewers found it peculiar that Cotroneo chose such works as Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" for discussion. A Publishers Weekly critic thus deemed the book "too involved for the young, too personal to be a general guide for parents, the work seems intended for older sophisticated book lovers." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Michael Frank called the book a "charming" effort in which the author endeavors to teach his son "how to think critically and independently."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Biblio, November, 1998, review of Letters to My Son on the Love of Books, p. 66.
Bloomsbury Review, November-December, 1998, Alden Rice, review of Letters to My Son on the Love of Books, p. 29.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1998, review of Letters to My Son on the Love of Books, p. 1251.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 30, 1999, Michael Frank, "More! Again!," review of Letters to My Son on the Love of Books, pp. 7-8.
Publishers Weekly, September 21, 1998, review of Letters to My Son on the Love of Books, p. 65.
Times Literary Supplement, June 28, 1996, Anna Laura Lepschy, "A Life in Music," review of Presto con fuoco, p. 24.
World Literature Today, winter, 1997, Charles D. Klopp, review of Otranto, p. 127, and Presto con fuoco, p. 128; spring, 2000, Charles D. Klopp, review of L'età perfetta, p. 423.