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Books & Rough Business

Tullio Pironti

Publication Year: 2009

Books would seem to be one thing, and rough business another—except that the life of Tullio Pironti has brought both together. This mover and shaker in Italian arts and publishing began as a scuffling street kid in Naples, then enjoyed a boxing career that included two trips to the nationals, and only after that entered the book business. Yet in the decades that followed, he ended up working with the likes of the Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfuz and the Maestro of Italian film, Federico Fellini. Not surprisingly, then, Pironti’s memoir won wide attention in his home country, with more than 100 notices. Before anything else, the young Pironti had to survive a war. His memoir begins with a refugee experience, as he and his family are driven out of their homes in downtown Naples by the American bombing of 1942-43. Then after the liberation, Pironti must make his way with his wits and his fists, amid a colorful array of Neapolitan street figures. His recollections of youth provide rare insight into coming of age in a culture so ancient, so full of secrets. Anyone who wants to know the real Italy, and what it’s been through over the last half-century, will find Books & Rough Business a source of endless fascination. On top of that, this autobiography offers the timeless pleasures of watching a wily player work his way from next to nothing to great success, overcoming just about every kind of adversity along the way.

Published by: Red Hen Press

Title Page, Copyright, Epigraph

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Translator’s Note

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Insofar as I had a model for translation before I undertook this project, it was the wrong one. I considered myself a staunch adherent for “literalism,” and I took as my avatar Vladimir Nabokov. The tetra-lingual author of Lolita and Pale Fire argued for exactitude in translation, for close...

Book I

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pp. 1-

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I

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pp. 3-6

Everyone knew Zara, the brown madman from Turin, with the build of a lumberjack. Rough business, in the ring. Now he and I had reached the last preliminary rounds for the national title bouts, and for our own contest, and we were well matched: Zara’s brute force against my technical...

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II

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pp. 7-10

Via Tribunali is one of the storied decumani of the ancient city center. That is, the street was laid out by the original Greek builders of Naples, and it still follows the straight line they surveyed for it, running east to west with the sun. Beneath its hand-hewn, four-sided paving stones, there hide...

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III

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pp. 11-13

Papa began go back down the hillside to the bookstore, though he knew all too well no one was buying books. He made the journey whatever way he could, often on foot, and he did keep us up to date on friends and family, Naples and the war. Now and again he took my two older brothers with...

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IV

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pp. 14-19

That day the same as any other, my father reached our hilltop rental around nightfall. Naturally we were eager to tell him what had happened, the miracle of food enough for once—but as soon as we saw him, we could tell he’d brought us very different news. Slowly, between tormented...

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V

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pp. 20-26

After the Nazi occupiers had been driven from the city—in the extraordinary partisan uprising known as the “Four Days of Naples,” a great story but not mine—we were lucky enough to have a transitional administration run by Americans. The Fifth Army, the same as worked its bloody way up...

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VI

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pp. 27-30

More formal schooling began for me in a square palazzo from the Fascist building boom, a place only ten or a dozen years old, but close by a far more weathered and disturbing edifice. The area was known as The Way to Purgatory, a name derived from its central church, which once had a...

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VII

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pp. 31-34

It’s always a busy spot, Piazzetta Miraglia. A triangular widening in Via Tribunali, nothing more, it slopes downhill from the Policlinico Vecchio, the first decent hospital in the center. Most people rush through, not even bothering to glance at the Roman temple column at one corner. Bright...

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VIII

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pp. 35-41

Piazza Dante in fact possessed a full array of comic-book vividness. Every day you saw a dozen or more shoestring ventures, many on the farther side of the law, as people who never had much to begin with scuffled to overcome the damages of war. Street vendors always made a place for themselves, and...

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IX

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pp. 42-46

Women offering a feel just to sell a cigarette, men ducking a promise to pay—behind all my recollections looms the shadow of hard times. It was during one of the most hand-to-mouth stretches, when it looked as if my mother might need to start cooking her walnut cakes again, that my father...

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X

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pp. 47-53

My commitment to boxing came after I’d turned fifteen. My father’s fencing impressed me terrifically, yes, and I would’ve loved to take after him. But the family could no longer afford for me to pick up even a mask and rapier, let alone pay for lessons. And bicycling was another passion, in those...

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XI

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pp. 54-60

Camerlingo’s little subterfuge before that final round against ‘O Castellone was hardly the only one I encountered, during my years with him and his boxers. On the contrary, many a fighter worked in the economic underground, using one form of “irregular activity” or another to make ends...

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XII

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pp. 61-70

Myself, I wanted no part of Mafia games. Toritore could needle me about “going all out” as much as he liked, but I continued to work on my technique in the ring. It’s funny how the very actions fear would suggest, stick and move, can prove so useful. I kept getting more bouts, and nearly every...

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XIII

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pp. 71-82

I didn’t need Ada along with me, on the long drive north to the fight, in order to feel the heat of spring. The Fiat that Camerlingo had borrowed for the evening held men only, and not just my coach and myself, but two others out of the squad on the night’s card, plus a knowledgeable old...

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XIV

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pp. 83-87

Come the next morning, I had one concern above all: Ada. I hadn’t been through such a training program, one that had done as much for my spirit as for my muscles and my wind, in order to let whatever opportunity that woman had dangled after the match trail off into a permanent...

Book II

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pp. 89-

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I

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pp. 91-97

A grown man, maybe, but I still suffered from the breakup. The Nationals came as a relief. The win over Troianovich, especially since it showed off the technique Camerlingo had drilled into me, had just the outcome my coach had predicted. The Slav never got his rematch, and I was selected...

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II

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pp. 98-103

Now jump ahead a few years, beyond my twenty-first birthday, or maybe even my twenty-fifth. I’m still athletic I suppose, but a boxer would notice the change in me right away. I’ve become a bookseller. I spend my days in small rooms lined with groaning shelves, now sitting behind a desk and...

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III

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pp. 104-110

Though built thick, more like a farm boy than a man of letters, Arturo always exhibited a certain vanity about his hair. That first day, it shone with cream, its comb perfect. Likewise sophisticated was how he let a cigarette dangle from one corner of his lips. The man caught me at a time when I...

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IV

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pp. 111-116

Both the piazza and the arched gateway at one corner, Port‘Alba, are part of the Naples readers’ ghetto. Indeed, while Port‘Alba takes its name from another of the Spanish Viceroys (as does Via Toledo, incidentally), that 16th-Century ruler himself preferred to call this airy, abbreviated tunnel...

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V

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pp. 117-124

But I must say, we also got a better crowd at the new location. I might’ve taken over the old family place, but I still enjoyed visits from friends I’d made on my own, like Galasso and Da Villa. Libreria Pironti benefited as well from the reputation I’d garnered from putting together the anthology...

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VI

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pp. 125-133

A typical night, a late dinner. I’d closed up the shop and pulled the grates down over the windows. When I reached the restaurant, I was seated near a group from a Naples television station. Among them sat a broad-shouldered man with a knowing, lippy smile and wide aviator...

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VII

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pp. 134-146

By the time The Vatican Connection had become a bestseller, Joe was spending most of his time in Naples. He didn’t have a house, preferring another hotel suite, now at the Majestic. The place is another of the city’s great residences, in La Chiaia, not far from my former gym. But there in the...

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VIII

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pp. 147-154

Naples and its Lungomare continued to tickle me with their seasonal pleasures, the crisp indigo waters of winter, the redolent tides of spring. Still it was months before my walks revived me enough to take the kind of interest in the press that I had before Joe’s passing. Especially thought-provoking...

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IX

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pp. 155-161

Fabrizia Ramondino, the reader who helped me with Swallow, wasn’t the only one calling my attention to new work out of America. As I say, most of these book-savvy folks were women, though they weren’t all in a university somewhere. Another key contact was Sylvia Kramar, the US correspondent...

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X

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pp. 162-167

So Pironti Editore had become an international house, one that people sought out. Authors, agents, friends or family—there was no predicting who might call or come through the door on Piazza Dante. I was roped into episodes such as I’d never have imagined. The response from the reading public, too...

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XI

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pp. 168-176

This same period, despite the growth my house was enjoying, took me away from business often enough. Much of what I went through wasn’t about books so much as about the changing culture. We all needed to adjust, as Italy surged to new sophistication, new success. At the beginning of the...

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XII

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pp. 177-190

Years before we lost Lucio Amelio and his discerning eye, as I say, the disease began to erode his energies. Nonetheless, in 1987 and ’88, the gallery owner was one of many supporters who came to my aid, from across the city and elsewhere. The end of the decade put me through the great crisis...

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XIII

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pp. 191-202

For The Presepe of Naples, I found my writer and photographer where I’d hoped to, among the crowd who’d come to my aid during my days as a felon. As the book came together in the fall of ’87, as I saw the text and pictures, I knew I had something of serious value. I had art and society...

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XIV

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pp. 203-211

Books on the mob featured, in particular, one from 1989 with a title I wish hadn’t proved so prophetic: Target: Falcone. Falcone remains a name all Italians recognize at once, the great anti-Mafia judge and prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, based in Palermo. Organized crime remains a blight on...

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XV

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pp. 212-218

My relationship with Naguib Mahfouz, the most fruitful and satisfying of the latter half of my career, I owe to a pair of women. Really, women like these have mattered enormously to Pironti Editore; the generation that came of age after the War, they’re free-thinking and assertive, at home in both...

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XVI

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pp. 219-226

Not long ago I again sat down to dinner in Piazza Dante, this time with Fernanda Pivano. The last few years had seen further struggles for the press, but I’d enjoyed my share of successes too, and those always seemed to have something to do with Nanda. Tonight, we’d presented her first book for...


E-ISBN-13: 9781597093682
Print-ISBN-13: 9781597091299
Print-ISBN-10: 1597091294

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: First