The year 2022. A young woman writes to her great grand aunt that she is opening a book she has been wanting to read for a while. “One, No One, and a Hundred-thousand” by Luigi Pirandello.
Unexpected memories of almost 70 years earlier rose to the surface of when, as a graduate of Columbia University, the now 93-year-old woman was traveling on her own through Italy. It was 1955. As the train rumbled through the countryside, she had pulled out the book she had bought in the station on the recommendation of her friend in Florence.
What better way to improve her Italian than to read these short stories set in Sicily, for that was where she was going. Pirandello. Novelle per un anno. The landscape outside the train window passed by swiftly as she underlined words and looked them up in the small dictionary that was her constant companion. She was not alone in the compartment, and her jolly companions had no intention of letting her be. A funny trio. Three buccaneers she called them. But then Italians rarely respected someone who just wanted to be left alone. When it came time for lunch, they shared their bread and cheese and sausages and of course asked her to snap a photo.
Some of the words turned out to be dialect, like parannanza for grembiule or apron. Then and there she hadn’t realized what an important writer Pirandello was and how Sicily was his lifeblood. When she later married an Italian, she found that he had a whole set of Pirandello’s works, bound in red leather. Although the book she was reading now, or trying to read, was an economic paperback, published by Mondadori.
Her Italian boyfriend at the time also identified with Pirandello’s novel Il fu Mattia Pascal, (The Late Mattia Pascal) and loved to toy with the idea of losing his present identity and starting all over again. Italians, she discovered, always seemed to know a lot about their culture, even citing Latin, even if they had relatively humble origins.
Over the years other novels and plays by Pirandello were read. One of the most important was “One, No One, and a Hundred-thousand” on the nature of identity. Although a full realization of who Pirandello was and what he went through came only when she chanced upon Camilleri’s biography (yes, the Camilleri of Montalbano) of his fellow Sicilian. Psychological tragedies that accompanied his life were reflected in his writings and perhaps as is often the case writing was a way of confronting life. In 1934 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
His memorial tomb is in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily, where he was born.
Although his wishes were not respected, Pirandello had meant to return to the earth, to the land of his birth. “When I am dead, do not clothe me. Wrap me naked in a sheet. No flowers on the bed and no lighted candle. A pauper’s cart. Naked. And let no one accompany me, neither relatives nor friends. The cart, the horse, the coachmen, e basta. Burn me.”