Why not use this time to immerse yourself in Italian Classic novels? They provide the ideal introduction to Italian culture, society and regional insights. Most of these listed classics are standard to read in Italian schools, so having read them will be the ideal tool to converse on on literature with the locals. But they are also a great pleasure to read! We could not list all of the must reads, so let's mention also The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, Il Piacere by Gabriele d' Annunzio and Il Barone Rampante by Italo Calvino.
La Divina Commedia - Dante Alighieri
This is probably Italy's most important book to read and know. Written around the 13th century, it describes the adventures of the author when he travels into the afterlife. The Divina Commedia is split into 3 main parts: Hell, Purgatorty and Paradise. On this journey he is joined by the poet Virgilio and in paradise meets his love Beatrice.
Il Principe - Niccolo Machiavelli
Written in the 15th century, Il Principe is an essay about politics and the characteristics of the main players, and the tactics they use. The term machiavellico describes someones who is smart but can also be unscrupulous. In the 1980's this book was even prescribed in management classes!
Decameron - Giovanni Boccaccio
A collection of short stories from Medieval times, depicting funny and quite erotic tales, by a group of young people who are hiding from the black plague in Florence. Decameron is one of the most important literary works of the 14th century.
Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis - Ugo Foscolo
Probably inspired by Goethe's Young Werther, this Italian Novel is collection of letters written by Jacopo Ortiz to his friend Lorenzo Alderani, who published them after Jacopo's suicide. Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis is deemed a prime example of Italian Romanticism in literature.
I promessi sposi - Alessandro Manzoni
This is the absolute classic Italian Novel. The Betrothed was published in 1827 and describes the love story between Renzo and Lucia during the 17th century. The story is told with the backdrop of the plague in Milan 1630. It also highlights the suffering under the Spanish rule at that time, which is also seen as a veiled charge against the Austrian Empire. They want to get married but the cruel baron of the town takes a liking to Lucia. And Renzo and Lucia have to separate and flee. But there is a happy-end!
I Malavoglia - Giovanni Verga
Again an Italian classic published in 1881 describing the difficult life of a fisherman's family in a little Sicilian village near Catania. I Malavolgia highlights the importance of family and the role of money and the economy in the life of a family.
The late Mattia Pascal - Luigi Pirandello
Nobel prize winner Pirandello tells the story of Mattia Pascal, a bored librarian who discovers one day reading the newspaper, that everybody thinks he is dead. So he decides to start a new life and disappear. This journey of escape leads to him living out two very different lives. Adriano Meis is created by the fortunate mistake of his wife identifying a dead body as him. While chance has allowed him to take on this new identity, Mattia soon learns that it is merely as mask as well as much of the novel focuses upon his inability to turn existence as Adriano into an identity as Adriano. A great read!
Zeno's conscience - Italo Svevo
This novel was published in 1923 and is the story of Zeno Corsini, a very rich man who lives a very comfortable life. He tells his psychotherapist about his issues and challenge to form his own identity in a very funny way. His family relationships are broken and as a result he fells sick and inadequate. At the end, he realizes that it's not him but the society around him which is ill.
The Leopard - Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
This is one of my favorite books. I read it on my first trip to Sicily and helped me to immerse myself in the Sicilian culture. It reveals the story of Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina, known as Il Gattopardo. He portrays the erosion of the House of Bourbon in Sicily, due to the landing of Garibaldi troops, and the beginning of the unification of Italy. Made into a fabulous movie by Lucchino Visconti starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon.
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis - Giorgio Bassani
A book about the jewish community in Ferrara in the year just prior World War II. The Finizi-Continis, a very rich family who have isolated themselves in their villa outside of town. It describes the very bourgeois way the family lives, with this grand villa, garden with tennis court, living their lives isolated from the reality happening around them. There was a movie made based on the novel by Vittorio di Sica in 1970.