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Nobody Can Fly (Nessuno può volare)

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Original Language: Italian | 224 pp. | September 2017

2 Seas represents: French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Nordic Rights.

Under option: Portugal

LITERARY FICTION

When you’re born into a family like that of Simonetta Agnello Hornby, you grow up in the awareness that everyone is normal but different, each with their own characteristics, which may sometimes be a bit ‘strange’. So you say quite naturally of a blind person that they ‘can’t see well’, of a cripple that they ‘have trouble in walking’, of an obese individual that they’re ‘heavy’, of an invalid that they’re ‘missing a leg’, of the fool that they ‘sometimes don’t understand’, of a deaf person that they ‘have to be talked to in a loud voice’, without ever thinking of those things as flaws or disabilities.

In a series of colourful and affectionate portraits we meet deaf-and-dumb Nini, nanny Giuliana, who walks with a limp, father who has a gammy leg, and grumpy Aunt Rosina, a cleptomaniac – when silverware disappears from the table, her relatives sneak up behind her to remove cutlery from her pockets without her noticing, because on no account must she be embarrassed… Then there’s George, Simonetta’s eldest child. Coming to terms with the fact that one of your children is disabled isn’t easy, but it is possible, and the key lies in the phrase ‘nobody can fly’: ‘Just as we can’t fly, so George would never be able to walk; this would never stop him enjoying life in other ways. There’s more to life than flying; maybe there’s more to life than walking too. We were going find out what it was, that “something more”.’

The same daily resolve is shown by George himself, who has lived with multiple sclerosis for fifteen years, and whose voice alternates with that of his mother like a countermelody, humorous, yet determined to describe the many obstacles, and perhaps advantages, in the lives of those who move around on a wheelchair. Simonetta Agnello Hornby takes us with her on a journey from Sicily to the London parks, via the artistic beauties of Italy. The journey is also – in fact predominantly – a flight above prejudices and clichés, which gives us not only many moving stories but a new, freer way of looking at things.

Simonetta Agnello Hornby was born in Palermo in 1945. She has joint Italian and British citizenship, and since 1972 has lived in London, where she worked as a lawyer specializing in juvenile cases, and for eight years was part-time chair of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. La Mennulara, her first novel, published by Feltrinelli in 2002, was translated around the world. These have been followed by a series of other novels for the same publisher: La zia marchesa (2004), Boccamurata (2007), Vento scomposto (2009), La monaca (2010), Il veleno dell’oleandro (2013), Il male che si deve raccontare (with Marina Calloni, 2013), Via XX Settembre (2013) and Caffè amaro (2016). She has also published Camera oscura (Skira, 2010), La mia Londra (Giunti, 2014) and some best-selling cookery books with a strong narrative element: Un filo d’olio (Sellerio, 2011), La cucina del buon gusto (with Maria Rosario Lazzati, Feltrinelli, 2012), La pecora di Pasqua (with Chiara Agnello; Slow Food, 2012, and Feltrinelli Zoom Flash, 2016) and Il pranzo di Mosè (Giunti, 2014). On 2 June 2016 the President of the Italian Republic appointed her to the Order of the Star of Italy with the rank of Grand Official. Nessuno può volare is also the title of a documentary film made with her son George Hornby for laeffe.