I have met , on different occasions, Dacia Maraini and, each time, I’ve been struck by her incredible ability to tell a story. She’s a genuine storyteller who involves and transmits emotions, exactly like it happens when you read her books, each unforgettable, from the first La Vacanza [translated as The Holiday – a novel] to La lunga vita di Marianna Ucria or Bagheria, La nave per Kobe,or Colomba, to mention but a few.
But Dacia Maraini isn’t just a great writer, known and translated across the world, author of novels, poetry, essays and stageplays, but also a person who, with a sensitivity and passion, has fought for civil rights, for peace, justice, and liberty, a woman who has supported the struggles of feminism and has shown, many times, the courage of her convictions. A generous and sincere person, a ‘special’ writer, worth getting to know a bit closer.
Fanizza: What does writing mean to you?
Dacia Maraini:The air that I breathe.
Fanizza: To dedicate yourself completely to writing professionaly, what have you had to give up?
Dacia Maraini: If I’ve had to renounce things, I’ve done so without a problem. As a girl I remember that I passed up going out to dance in order to stay reading under a tree. Or I’d pass a night with a book in hand and the next day would die from sleep. But I didn’t see it as a sacrifice, simply as dedicating myself to something that I loved.
Fanizza:What kind of relationship did Dacia Maraini have with her father? How much did it condition you when encountering people you loved?
Dacia Maraini:I’d go back to read Bagheria. I can’t encapsulate the profound and complicated relationship I had with my father here and now. I just remember that he was the only one who always treated me more as an adventure companion rather than as a daughter: hours and hours of rock-climbing, hours and hours of skiing, hours and hours of sailing or of swimming in the deep. Without taking into account the fragility of a little girl.
Fanizza:You’ve often concerned yourself with civil rights and women’s rights. What’s changed, today, in the relationship between man and woman?
Dacia Maraini:This is another question that would take an entire book to answer. However, briefly I could say that, while on the level of civil rights many things have changed decisively for the better, on the level of attitudes and mentality there’s still a long way to go. On the other hand it’s obvious that it’s much easier to change a law than to change a way of thinking.
Fanizza:What feminine qualities are necessary and useful, nowadays, to assert yourself in the world of work, and to face life with serenity?
Dacia Maraini:A woman has to demonstrate in every moment to be thirty times better than a man, to gain trust and to be considered. So, she has to be tenacious, combattative but not aggressive, she has to love her work a lot and not let herself be discouraged by the daily discriminiation she encounters. Above all else she musn’t think that using her body will help her attain her goal. Men use women who play seductively, and then they look down on them.
Fanizza:In your novels you talk often of women who have been raped, many of them when they were very young. Why does that violence so often come from the people closest, the nearest and dearest?
Dacia Maraini: I don’t know why. I know that all the reports and statistics talk about an allarming spread of violence in the family. A sign that something doesn’t function properly in today’s family. A sign that adults don’t know how to respect and really love their young ones. Often love is confused with possession. You say “this is my” about your child, without taking into account that you’re dealing with a real person with his/her own personality, rights, and autonomy, even when very young.
To love in a posssessive manner often means for the one who loves ‘leaving a mark’ on the body, brooding morbidly, becoming jealous. From this to incest is a small step. Only if you learn to respect the other in your son, in your grandchild, brother, daughter, wife, can you talk about real love. Otherwise you’re dealing with a form of narcissism: you love the other because they love you, because they’re close to you, because they’re faithful to you. It’s enough for a small betrayal, a distancing, an affirmation of independence to provoke wrath, fear and also hatred from the adult. How many husbands and boyfriends kill the woman they say they love because she has decided to leave. It’s in the news every day.
Fanizza:To what female character in your novels are you most drawn? And for what reasons?
Dacia Maraini:I’m always attached to the last of my characters. Because it’s closer to me, because I walk with them for more time
Fanizza:What advice would you give to someone starting out as a writer today? What’s the secret of a bestseller?
Dacia Maraini:Success is something you should never take into consideration: if you follow it it’ll elude you. It’s important to really love your work as a writer, to read loads to the point where you can recognise blindfolded, hearing them read, the writers of yesterday and today. It’s important to write every day, for hours. To have faith in your imagination and let it wander. Don’t wait for success, but for the respect and interest of those who read you. At the start it could be a classmate, someone who shares your interests. Before sending off the manuscript for a novel to a publishing house, it would be a good idea to try writing short stories, and publishing them in a local magazine (there are ones in every city [or indeed Three Monkeys]). Also on the internet you can find sites dedicated to writing, open to all. Only when you’ve done the groundwork should you think big. Quality will shine through, but it takes time. There aren’t shortcuts if you’re doing this seriously. But it’s worth remembering that our country (Italy) is a country where few read (only 5% read more than one book a year), and that, at the same time, many people want to write, and so prepare yourself for a hard competition. And good luck!