Trieste in Six Books to Enjoy This Summer

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Illustration by Sofi Alova
Reading Time: 4 minutes

words: Theodora Negrea

illustration: Sofi Deynkea

Trieste is known as a city of literature and the home to important literary figures of the past centuries. Dive deeper into the artistic spirit of this port city and learn about the inspiration it provided to international and local writers alike, with this list of six books with Trieste as the secondary (and sometimes primary) character. 

Take a seat at one of Trieste’s sun-kissed terraces, or bring your read along for a day by the sea. Whatever your reading spot of choice, I hope you enjoy these works that cherish the city as a place of mystery, joy, nostalgia, and more. 

Trieste and The Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris

Here’s a book for lovers of all things Italian. This city on the Adriatic has always tantalized Jan Morris with its moodiness and changeability. After visiting Trieste for more than half a century, she has come to see it as a touchstone for her interests and preoccupations: cities, seas, empires. It has even come to reflect her own life in its loves, disillusionment, and memories. Her meditation on the place is characteristically layered with history and sprinkled with stories of famous visitors from James Joyce to Sigmund Freud. A lyrical travelogue, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere is also superb cultural history and the culmination of a singular career.

Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo

Long hailed as a seminal work of modernism in the tradition of Joyce and Kafka, Italo Svevo’s idiosyncratic novel conducts readers deep into one hilariously hyperactive and endlessly self-deluding mind. The mind in question belongs to one Zeno Cosini, a neurotic Italian businessman who is writing his confessions at the behest of his psychiatrist. Here are Zeno’s interminable attempts to quit smoking, his courtship of the beautiful yet unresponsive Ada, his unexpected–and unexpectedly happy–marriage to Ada’s homely sister Augusta, and his affair with a shrill-voiced aspiring singer. Relating these misadventures with wry wit and irony, and a perspicacity at once unblinking and compassionate, Zeno’s Conscience is a miracle of psychological realism.

Marco, The Penguin of Trieste by Roberto Covaz (translated by InTrieste’s Maria Kochetkova)

The book talks about the story of Marco, a penguin who lived for 32 years in the local aquarium, becoming a celebrity among generations of Triestini. The story of this penguin seems to have been taken from a movie: it all begins in 1953 when in Cape Town in South Africa some sailors of the motor ship Europa, for fun, capture with a net a penguin from the sea. The ship sails on the way back to Trieste and the animal stays with them, so during the journey, the name is decided, Marco. In the years to follow, Marco would get into the habit of walking around the interior spaces, and accompanied by the aquarium staff he would even venture outside, immediately becoming an attraction for children and for all the people of Trieste. You’ll have to read this book to find out a surprising fact discovered after his death – and, the best part, you’ll find around the city the English translation by InTrieste’s own Editor in Chief

A Dead Man in Trieste by Michael Pearce

This is the first book of the Seymour of Special Branch mystery series set in port cities around the Mediterranean in the decade before World War I. Trieste in 1906 is one of Europe’s great seaports, the Austrian Empire’s main outlet to the Mediterranean and the world beyond. But various nationalist movements are threatening to pull the place apart. The heavy-handed militarist regime has trouble keeping a lid on it, the secret police are everywhere, and now the British consul has gone missing. Was this the result of an ill-advised liaison? Could he have fallen afoul of the secret police, or the revolutionaries? The Austrian police are of course investigating, but the Foreign Office would prefer this matter to be handled with sensitivity. Britain has commercial interests in the port after all, so perhaps it would be wise to send someone out. 

Years Of Bloom: James Joyce In Trieste, 1904-1920 by John McCourt

Based on extensive scrutiny of previously unused Italian sources and informed by the author’s intimate knowledge of the culture and dialect of Trieste, The Years of Bloom documents a fertile period in Joyce’s life. While living in Trieste, Joyce wrote most of the stories in Dubliners, turned Stephen Hero into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and began Ulysses. Echoes and influences of Trieste are rife throughout Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Though Trieste had become a sleepy backwater by the time Ellmann visited there in the 1950s, McCourt shows that the city was a teeming imperial port, intensely cosmopolitan and polyglot, during the approximately twelve years Joyce lived there in the waning years of the Habsburg Empire.  It was there that Joyce experienced the various cultures of central Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. He met many Jews, who collectively provided much of the material for the character of Leopold Bloom. He encountered continental socialism, Italian Irredentism, Futurism, and various other political and artistic forces whose subtle influences McCourt traces with literary grace and scholarly rigor.

New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani

A man is found on a quayside in Trieste during the second world war, having been clubbed almost to death. A tag inside the seaman’s jacket he is wearing bears a Finnish name: Sampo Karjalainen. When he regains consciousness he has no memory, no language. He is simply a consciousness devoid of context. The doctor on the hospital ship riding at anchor, though, is Finnish, and, with nothing else to go on, starts teaching his gradually recovering patient Finnish, in the hope that memories will be triggered, and he can rediscover who he is. Eventually, when Karjalainen is well enough, he is sent to Helsinki, where perhaps he can find more fragments of his identity.

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Theodora Negrea
I'm Theo, a 'part-time' digital nomad working remotely for a tech company and currently living between the Netherlands and Italy. I enjoy traveling and exploring cities and nature alike. I love languages and find myself learning a new one rather often (Italian was actually my COVID-19 project). My long-standing passions include reading, hiking, museums, and the outdoors. You can always wake me up for an early-morning hike to catch a beautiful sunrise on a peak somewhere or for any conversations about words, languages, books, or art.

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