The Italianist: Tutta Intera, by E. Hakuzwimana

There is a common, even infamously used, trope in books written by and about teachers who end up in a class of often marginalised, racialised, underprivileged children and  who ‘learn more from the kids’ than the kids from the teacher. Yet, very few books are successful in using such a trope, especially in established literary circles. There is only one I have found in recent years that uses and undercuts the trope at the same time. This book chips away at the ancient, flimsy bridges of the saviorism implicit in many of its peers, and at the same time is not afraid of being uncomfortable and devoid of answers: Espérance Hakuzwimana’s debut novel Tutta Intera.

Language is a battlefield, I told pa’, who wasn’t listening; the pasta with meat sauce sitting on the good plates, the TV playing loud.

In Basilici, language is a playing field, and they are having fun while I struggle to keep up.

Dialects, accents, cadences, freshly minted or mangled languages, ancient. When I cross the Sele, what I thought was Arabic becomes Latin, Slavic, it never fits my expectations, never fits the faces I meet.

Adelina Moraru told me, We only speak Italian at home. Some of the others nodded. Mihai Kostenko, in shock, replied, Not us, my mum doesn’t allow us. Benjamin Oududu told us that his mother is afraid of pidgin coming from his mouth. I am the eldest, miss. I need to be a good example to my siblings.

What do you mean, afraid?

My mother always says ‘Proper Italian, say it in proper Italian!’. His hands were making scare quotes as he said it.

Read the full piece at European Literature Network!

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