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Great little novel 'Malacqua' more topical than ever after 50 years

Extreme weather - the novel Malacqua, about how the city of Naples is ravaged for days by heavy rainfall, is more topical than ever not only because of its subject matter. The book may date from 1977, but Nicola Pugliese's tantalising and unusual writing style, also thanks to Annemart Pilon's excellent translation, is still surprising, fresh and modern today.

Quirky author

Italian Nicola Pugliese (1944-2012) is the author of one book. In 1977, Italian author Italo Calvino, who worked at the well-known publishing house Einaudi, published Pugliese's concise novel Malacqua. Pugliese reportedly wrote it in 45 days, and then refused to change it at all. The first edition of the book was sold out within a few days. The author had decided that the book should not be reprinted until after his death, and so it happened. Partly for this reason, it has only now appeared in Dutch translation.

Days of rain

Malacqua - 'bad water' - is about the city of Naples, which is hit by a rainstorm that lasts for days. After only the first night, a sinkhole forms and a building collapses, killing a total of seven people. From behind the crenellated towers of Castel Nuovo, a rattling sound is heard, a long sigh, voices, a scream. It seems to come from a doll, the same doll found in the sinkhole. What is going on here?

Journalist Carlo Andreoli reports on all the strange events and how the city suffers. '... and the water flowed slowly and furrowed, it furrowed, and cut, and furrowed, and cut...' Already after the first disastrous day, when even on the second day the rain continues to pour down incessantly and there are those strange voices coming from the Castel Nuovo, a sense of impending doom creeps over the residents, that something is about to happen that will change their perspective on life.

The rain does not stop on the third day either, nor the fourth. Foundations are undermined, neighbourhoods evacuated. Neapolitans hold their breath and wait. They live between hope and fear - but mostly in fear. And this apocalyptic atmosphere makes people think about their lives.


As idiosyncratic as Pugliese was, so idiosyncratic are his style and narrative style. Repetitions, missing punctuation, interjections, sentences that seem to go on and on - the author goes his own way. That makes this work wonderfully authentic, fresh and captivating.

In an afterword, Annemart Pilon talks about the challenges she faced in translating this story. Nice, such a peek into the kitchen of a translator, who often gets so little attention and recognition for this beautiful and important work. Because as a result, even after almost 50 years, this readable work feels like a novel of today.

Nicola Pugliese, Malacqua (160 p.). Translated from the Italian by Annemart Pilon.Van Oorschot, €22.50.


A Quattro Mani

Photographer Marc Brester and journalist Vivian de Gier can read and write with each other - literally. As partners in crime, they travel the world for various media, for reviews of the finest literature and personal interviews with the writers who matter. Ahead of the troops and beyond the delusion of the day.View Author posts

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