New York Review of Books, 9781681370828, 160pp.
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
A coming of age story that is a classic of gay literature, now in English for the first time An NYRB Classics Original Ernesto is a classic of gay literature, a tender and complex tale of sexual awakening by one of Italy's most admired poets. Ernesto is a sixteen-year-old boy from an educated family who lives with his mother in Trieste. His mother is eager for him to get ahead and has asked a local businessman to give him some workplace experience in his warehouse. One day a workingman makes advances to Ernesto, who responds with willing curiosity. A month of trysts ensues before the boy begins to tire of the relationship, finally escaping it altogether by engineering his own dismissal. And yet his experience has changed him, and as Umberto Saba's unfinished, autobiographical story breaks off, Ernesto has struck up a new, oddly romantic attachment to a boy his own age.
About the Author
Umberto Saba (1883-1957) was born Umberto Poli in the city of Trieste, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and continued to live in Trieste for the greater part of his life. The child of a broken family--his father, who had converted to Judaism to marry, soon abandoned his wife--Saba attended the Imperial Academy of Commerce and Navigation in Trieste, and then moved for some years to Pisa, where he studied classical languages and archaeology. In 1909 he married Carolina Wolfler, also Jewish, and the subsequent year she gave birth to a daughter; a first book of poems, published under the name of Umberto Saba, also appeared that year. Saba's marriage was at first troubled--his wife's affair with a painter led to a brief separation--and the couple was poor, and for a few years they moved around Italy in the hopes of improving their fortunes. After the end of World War I, however, Saba bought a secondhand bookshop in Trieste--he called it La Libreria Antica e Moderna--and in the next decades he made a comfortable living as a bookdealer while working on Il Canzoniere, the book of poems he published in 1921 and would go on adding to for the rest of his life. During World War II, Saba and his family were forced to flee Trieste and go into hiding in Florence to avoid deportation by the Nazis. Though the postwar years brought him many prizes and widespread recognition as one of modern Italy's greatest poets, Saba suffered from depression, which had plagued him all his life, and opium addiction and was repeatedly institutionalized. He died at seventy-four, within a year of his wife. Estelle Gilson is a writer, translator, and poet. Among her translations are works by Stendhal, Gabriel Preil, Natalia Ginzburg, Massimo Bontempelli, and Giacomo Debenedetti. Her translation of Stories and Recollections of Umberto Saba was awarded the MLA's first Scaglione Prize for the best literary translation of the previous two years.