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If a “whale” island appears one night out of nowhere… The adventure of a farmer-fisherman in the Columbia of the 1800s, with echoes of Màrquez, in Il canto della Balena (Tea Editore), the imaginative final novel by Corrado Sobrero, who died in 2012, at only 44 years of age.
His previous novel was praised by critics like Segre and Ferroni
by Giacomo Annibaldis
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Il canto della balena by Corrado Sobrero,
published as an e-book in 2012,
was brought out on paper
by Edizioni Tea in January 2014

Macondo has never disappeared from literary maps: the city of the Buendìas and the Segundos, so permeated with magic realism, nurtured – and still nurtures – the dreams of certain young storytellers.

This is so for Corrado Sobrero, a writer who was born in Turin in ’68, the year of utopias, grew up in Salento (where his father Alberto, a linguist, taught at the University of Lecce), lived in Milan and died prematurely in 2012. In 2006 Manni had already published his novel Nevica sull’Isola di Baro, a story enthusiastically hailed by critics like Giulio Ferroni and Cesare Segre. Ferroni talked about it as a “fairytale and philosophical tale containing surprises and paradoxes, irony and lightness…. A little Macondo dedicated to happiness”; Segre called it “a novel out of the ordinary, with a remarkable inventive capacity for casting a spell”.

That Latin American world where modernity is about to burst in and sweep away an enchanted suspension of time, is where Corrado Sobrero returns with the novel Il canto della balena (Tea ed., pp. 230, 12 euros). It was with this manuscript that the author participated in 2011, the year before his death, in the literary competition “Io Scrittore” (I the Writer), reaching the finals.

And this new Macondo (where there is no lack of characters called Buendía and Segundo) cannot be set anywhere but in 19th century Columbia, on the Pacific coast: in fact the towns of Porsuerte, Calí, Manzales, remind us of the modern Buonaventura, Calí, Manizales… Here, there is a farmer, León, with his large family; he is one of the many sharefarmers of the landowner, descended from the conquistadores, locked in his palace on the hill as stiff as “a nipple turgid with the cold”. León is a farmer but also a fisherman; and one night while in his boat on the ink-black sea, he witnesses the miraculous birth of a new island…

This miracle of nature is the starting point for plot of survival and marvels, cleverly orchestrated by the ingenious young Himelda, the only one who has learned to read and write. The island, which appeared from out of nowhere and which will soon be called The Whale due to its shape, is destined to bring a little happiness to the inhabitants of the nearby hamlets. Himelda, so skilled at reading signs and people’s desires, offers it as a refuge, a mutable place that adapts to each different need. So the island sings all the time when Pepillo, a giant who has never spoken, secretly goes every Thursday to Porsuerte to perform as a singer; but it prays, in a constant murmur, when pious Celimanna and four other women spend days in a religious retreat; or it sees, afloat in the air, Pirro Alonso, the farmer who some swear they saw lifted up by the wind like a kite; the island snores when a gang of workers come ashore, led by Urbano Segundo, out to win a weekly day of rest.…

All this while the Future is arriving. To be exact, February 17, 1892, when the land will see the arrival of the new railroad’s first train (a monster that nobody knew about, apart from by rumor); and a little further north, in Panama, the waters of the two oceans will mix thanks to a canal built by man. The Future will come and it will have the eyes of a newborn child: one as blue as the sea and one as brown as the earth.

With a reiterative, spell-binding style tending to the fantastical (a mixture of premonitory dreams and folk sayings), Corrado Sobrero has built another island, dedicated, like that of Baro, to happiness. But this time the island will sink down like a whale: because what poor people wish for is too revolutionary and the powerful cannot afford to see those wishes come true.

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