An Interview with Massimo Gramellini
Massimo Gramellini is Deputy Editor at La Stampa, where he runs a front-page daily column. A household name in Italy thanks to his regular TV appearances, he is the author of several books, including L’ultima riga delle favole (The Last Line of Fairy Tales) and Fai bet sogni (Sweet Dreams, Little One), an international bestseller that has been translated into fourteen languages.
1) What inspired you to write Sweet Dreams, Little One?
Initially I wanted to write an essay about the positive aspects of bereavement and pain… How we can overcome our suffering and turn it into an opportunity to search in our deepest feelings and evolve from them. At that point, I decided to write a preface to the essay describing my own discovery of my past. I wanted to give a practical example of what it means to live all your life with a psychological wound and how I managed to overcome it. Finally this preface became Sweet Dreams, Little One, where I explore the theme of an emotionally crippled orphan and the late realization of the truth. I knew in my heart that my mother had killed herself, and when I read of similar stories in the papers I tried to ignore them. We know so many things in our hearts, but we simply pretend not to, as we don’t want to suffer and we don’t want to recover.
2) Did you suffer when you decided to include that newspaper article about your mother’s death?
When I decided to add the article at the back of the book, I felt a terrible pain. It was not a fantasy any more. While I was writing the book, I had a fever and a terrible sore throat. I knew I was giving vent to my sorrow. I wrote it during the 2011 summer holidays. I forced myself to sit at the computer for at least six hours. At the end of this period, I was always asking myself why this story should be of interest to other people. I didn’t realize that we are all orphans in a way or another; everybody has lost something or somebody.
3) How autobiographical is your book?
The book is not totally autobiographical. There are only some episodes from my personal life that helped me better to describe the loss of a mother, which is the main theme of the book.
4) Do you think you managed to fulfill your biggest dream?
When I was a child I dreamt of becoming a writer. I am now a journalist, as it was the only way of making a living using words. Now that some people call me a writer, I actually feel proud to be a journalist, as I think I’ve learnt how to respect readers and to communicate with them in a clear and enjoyable way.
5) Do you still remember something about your mum?
Yes, I do remember the scent of her hair. After the publication of the book, many people who knew her wrote to me. They told me how in my house there was always a scent of wax. She loved to wax all the floors, even the kitchen, and I have been told that I really enjoyed gliding on it.
6) Have you ever thought that such a personal and delicate subject could attract so many readers?
No, I didn’t, but every book as well as every article always has two authors: the person who writes it and the one who reads it. That’s why I always think that clarity in writing is absolutely essential. The cleaner the mirror, the better you can reflect yourself.
It’s early morning on New Year’s Eve, and nine-year-old Massimo wakes up to a long, doleful cry and the disconcerting image of his dad being supported by two strangers. Inexplicably, his mother has disappeared, leaving only a vague trail of perfume in his room and her dressing gown bundled up at the foot of his bed. Where has she gone? Will she ever come back? And will Massimo be able to say sorry, after quarrelling with her the night before?
At turns poignant and funny, Sweet Dreams, Little One – the most successful book to come out of Italy last year, and an international sensation – is the story of a secret which has been kept hidden for forty years and the uplifting tale of a boy who, as he grows into an adult, has to learn how to cope with the pain of bereavement and the demons of his own nightmares.
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