Young Dedalus published its first titles in March 2020. Four books, all of them translations. Just as Dedalus has developed a reputation for publishing neglected classics, great untranslated literature and highly unusual imaginative stories, Young Dedalus was established to publish the neglected classics, great untranslated literature and highly unusual, imaginative stories that the older Dedalus reader might have enjoyed when they were a child. The first four books that have been published so far are all translations, two from Portuguese, one from Spanish and one from German, continuing the tradition of Dedalus prioritising publishing European literature in English.
As is probably clear from the title of my blog it is the German novel I am going to write about. It tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy who plans on leaving home with no accompanying adult, to travel to Sicily where his Father lives and bring him back home. After an argument Carlo’s German mother threw his Sicilian Father out, and his Father returned to Italy. For five months and six days Carlo has been waiting to see his Father. “I just can’t shake off the words waiting and Papa”. Telling his Mother, he is going to stay with a friend, he takes his money roll of 210 Euros, wearing a hand me down suit and tie from his Father, and heads to the station. On the way the chubby Carlo can’t resist visiting an Italian Restauranteur called Pietro who is always happy to give his friend a few slices of Pizza.
What follows are a series of adventures in which Carlo stows away aboard a sleeper train because he does not have enough money for the journey, has his property stolen by a taxi driver in Italy, and after sneaking aboard a ferry for Sicily is blackmailed into giving up his prized signed Bochum goalkeeper’s Jersey. These experiences are interspersed with memories of his Father, who we learn is a larger than life, exciting figure to his son, but who is still irresponsible and negligent of how much his son wants and needs him.
One memory that sticks out from when his Father still lived with him in Germany, is of him going missing for three days. We are told this is not unusual, but what makes it so bad is that one of those days was Carlo’s Birthday. When his Father does appear, and after many exclamations of ‘Mio Dio!’, he tells Carlo he has not forgotten his Birthday, he had postponed it. Unable to resist his Father’s bear hugs and irrepressible laughs, Carlo asks him if he has tickets for the Bochum game today. He reassures him he has and takes him on his moped to the stadium.
His Father does not actually have tickets, but he knows a steward on the turnstiles. After telling him that his son is going to be the next Bochum keeper and that surely a fellow Italian can fail to do a countryman a good turn, his Father manages to get them in for the second half. Bochum win the game after a penalty shootout. His Father then tells him they are going to collect his present from the president. After pushing through a row of people around the president in the upper stand he strikes up a conversation with him. He quickly has him laughing, and pointing to his son tells him it is his Birthday, Carlo is allowed to see the players in the dressing room where he gets his goalkeepers shirt signed by Bochum’s penalty saving hero.
It is clearly a fairy-tale memory with an embellishment here and there, but one that clearly emphasises how much Carlo misses his father that later on he is willing to give up his prized shirt on his ambitious quest to bring his father home.
When Carlo reaches his Father’s home, his Father is delighted and passionately embraces him. He is stunned that his son has come all this way alone and endures a barrage of maternal fury over the phone. He takes his son to the market to buy as many fresh ingredients for a grand breakfast over which Carlo relays to him all his adventures. Listening wild eyed one thinks perhaps his Father is finally understanding the gap he has left in his son’s life. But later on, on the very same day when he takes Carlo to the beach for ice cream and to sunbathe, he receives a phone call. Telling Carlo it will be half an hour maximum, his son ends up waiting for him for an hour and a half. Going back to his Father’s house in a rage he sees him arguing with a woman he does not know and proceeds to shout at him for always promising things that he never delivers and for always keeping him waiting after building his hopes up.
Seeing his son so worked up clearly has an effect on Carlo’s Father. He also recognises something of himself in the impulsiveness of his adventure. There is an understated quality about this realisation that is quite disarming. Carlo’s Papa doesn’t become a model Father and when he returns to Germany with his son, he does not get back together with Carlo’s Mother. He does however make more of an effort to see his son and deliver on his promises, such as taking his son regularly to football games. Carlo’s adventure has shown him how much he has to grow up to ensure the happiness of the son he clearly loves. Considering how comfortable much of contemporary media is to talk of toxic masculinity it was heartening to read a sensitive and sympathetic story of a father and son, a story of the responsibility and importance of fathers.