In the last few months I have been reading in the works of the great European Aristocrats of 20th century literature. Among writers like Stefan Zweig, Gregor Von Rozzi, Joseph Roth, Marcel Proust, and his fellow Italian, Curzio Malaparte must be counted Giuseppe Lampedusa, author of The Leopord. I was recently very kindly given The Professor and the Siren by The New York Review of Books, a collection of three short works of fiction by Lampedusa, translated by Stephen Twilley, to be published later this year. All were originally published after the author's death. The wed page of the publisher indicates that these stories and his great master work, The Leopard, were his only fiction.
The title story in the collection, "The Professor and the Siren", will, I predict and hope, in time be added to the beyond dispute greatest short stories of all time. It alone makes the collection near must reading and buying for those who want to read the finest works of the short story. It would be an excellent class room story for advanced readers. It is a perfect reading life story about a professor whose life centers on his reading of Ancient Greek texts.
As the story opens a man in his twenties is in a cafe on the island of Sicily. He is thinking about the woman who just walked out on him. He begins to go to the cafe everyday. He notices a very distinguished looking man in his seventies, always alone. A waiter tells him the man is a famous scholar of Classical Greek culture. The brilliance and sheer marvel of the story begins as the two men gradually become friends. I don't want to recapitulate the growth of their relationship but just sitting in on the remarks of the professor was wonderful. I would gladly have read 1000 pages of them. The heart of the story is a 10 or so page account of the professor 's love affair with a mermaid.
The story really is a love affair with ancient culture and the reading life. It is also an attack on the shallowness of contemporary culture and scholarship of the ancient world.
The elegant translation was by Stephen Twiley.
I am very much looking forward to reading The Leopard.