22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Stefano Benni

Portrait Stefano Benni
© Hartwig Klappert

Stefano Benni, one of the most well-known Italian authors of political satire, was born in Bologna in 1947. He is not only a novelist, dramatist and poet but also a journalist and director. Since his literary breakthrough with the science fiction novel “Terra!” in 1983, he has joined the ranks of Italy’s best-selling authors. He has written some twenty books in a variety of genres which he handles playfully, ranging from political thrillers to fairytales and the grotesque, and his works are especially popular with young readers. Despite his macabre, fantastical and exaggerated characters, his stories are close to reality.

Benni’s literary output includes novels, collections of short stories and volumes of poetry which have been translated into several languages. The media satire “Baol” (1990) is clearly a spin on George Orwell’s “1984”, as is the “Ministry of Truth”, a TV archive which controls the masses through false images. A satire on the media and politics full of black humour unfolds as his novel mocks the sad world of the big city, greedy neo-liberalism and the effects of globalisation. The moral imperative – which under the noisy surface of his books conveys a serious and at times melancholy picture – distinguishes Benni from proponents of pop literature.

In his novel “Spiriti” (2000), a biting political satire of life in the 21st century, the author links the destinies of seventy different characters through countless plot threads and scenes in a mix of fairytale, utopia and the comic. The standard language and clichés found in politics and the media are mercilessly caricatured: “So, what do you think of that location? Shall we take it over live? Shall we put it all on the net? That is a twenty billion euro business, we’ll contribute one of these to a good cause, the rest we’ll fritter away ourselves”, is how the “king of showbiz and propaganda” churns out his usual phrases as he relinquishes hold of the last little piece of earth. Benni’s world of 2010 threatens to end in apocalypse due to globalised ultra-capitalism, environmental destruction, war and corruption, only to be saved by spirits. The writer has said, “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I am merely clear sighted.”

Benni’s novel “Achille pié veloce” (2003; t: The swift-footed Achilles) has recently been translated into German and tells the story of an unusual friendship between an editor hardly able to cope with life and a terminally ill, monstrous author. Full of fantastical twists and rich in a plethora of allusions to literature and politics, a touching story is told with dark humour and language that is at times chilling.

Alongside his literary works, the author also writes columns for “Panorama” and “Il Manifesto”. In 1989 he directed “Musica per vecchi animali” (1989; Eng. “Music for Old Animals”) and took part in different theatre productions, including “Il bar sotto il mare” (t: The bar under the sea). Today Benni lives in his birthplace Bologna.

© international literature festival berlin