Elvis Malaj and Giuseppe Antonelli on language and identity
In the cosy auditorium of the Conservatorio di Musica Lucio Campiani, writer Elvis Malaj discussed his new book, Dal tuo terrazzo si vede casa mia (From Your Terrace You Can See My House) with Giuseppe Antonelli. Nominated for the Premio Strega, it is a collection of short stories that explores the relationship between Italians and Albanians. Malaj chose the often undervalued form of the short story to recount the fractured occurrences of daily life. He writes with comedy and irony, laughingly saying, “I skipped the phases of maturity and went straight to irony. Thus, I’m in an ironic maturity.”
Elvis Malaj is himself of Albanian origins, but has lived in Italy for the past 15 years and writes in Italian. For this reason, the dialogue between Malaj and Antonelli centred on languages themselves. The language of literature for Malaj is Italian, not Albanian because he first studied great literature in Italy, making it is natural for him to read and write in Italian. Many stories in his book, in fact, focus on the interactions and divergences of these two languages, Albanian and Italian, as their speakers develop their relationship as neighbours.
The book plays not only with language, but also with cultural prejudices. Malaj and Antonelli acknowledge the many stereotypes that Italians have for Albanians, and Malaj tries to combat these through humor, confronting them and then subverting them. His character hears a stereotype against him, and then intentionally and satirically embodies it. Yet Malaj also avers that in many ways, a person’s inner world influences their outer one; in other words, if an immigrant expects to be treated negatively, they will indeed find racism in those they meet. Thus, this raises the question about the consequential relationship between one’s inner and outer world: How much comes from within the individual versus from the society in which they are living?