For our latest Five Book Plan, Deborah Smith, award-winning translator and founder and publisher of Tilted Axis Press, shares her top 5 books of literature in translation as part of Verso's Summer Reads 2016 recommendations.
Her translations from the Korean include two novels by Han Kang, The Vegetarian (winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize) and Human Acts (Portobello, 2016), and two by Bae Suah, A Greater Music (forthcoming in October 2016 from Open Letter Press) and Recitation (Deep Vellum, 2017). In 2015 Deborah completed a PhD at SOAS on contemporary Korean literature and founded Tilted Axis Press, a not-for-profit press focusing on contemporary fiction in translation. In 2016 she won the Arts Foundation Award for Literary Translation. She tweets as @londonkoreanist.
Rachel Kushner, author of the acclaimed novel The Flamethrowers, examines the historical context of Nanni Balestrini’s We Want Everything, an explosive novel of Italy’s revolutionary "Hot Autumn" of 1969. She also praises Balestrini’s invention of a new literary form, the novel-inchiesta, documenting workers’ struggles in their own voices, which she calls a singular artistic achievement.
The following is an edited version of Kusher’s introduction to We Want Everything, originally published at New Republic.
Nanni Balestrini’s We Want Everything (Vogliamo tutto), published in 1971, captures an explosive moment of worker militancy in Italy during 1969. It is the story of one man, told by a narrator whose experiences are based on those of the worker and militant Alfonso Natella. It is also, however, the collective story of workers from the Italian south who arrived at the Fiat Mirafiori factory in Turin during the 1960s. These workers were described, in approving terms, by the Italian radical political theorist Mario Tronti as a ‘crude, pagan race’. Balestrini’s narrator says of these new workers: ‘The monsters were coming, the horrible workers’ (WWE 65).
The novel is primarily set during Italy’s ‘hot autumn’ (autunno caldo), a massive wave of strikes between 1969 and 1970 that affected the northern industrial centres of Italy. In particular it is focused on Fiat’s Mirafiori plant in Turin, which by the late 1960s was a powder keg ready to explode. The plant employed 50,000 workers, with an annual staff turnover of 10% and 60% of these workers, like the worker in We Want Everything, came from the Italian south. Introduced to the new discipline of factory labour, these workers soon came into violent conflict with the bosses. Unlike skilled workers, traditional union members, and the representatives of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), they saw no value in work. As Balestrini’s narrator says, ‘When I came to Fiat I believed I’d be saved. This myth of Fiat, of work at Fiat. In reality it’s shit, like all work, in fact it’s worse’ (WWE 82). These workers practiced the ‘refusal of work’: carrying out wildcat strikes and making ‘impossible’ demands, like ‘we want everything’.