Alba Donati, the (real) adventure of the books and the people who built the nest – Corriere.it

out of PAOLO DI STEFANO

In “The Bookshop on the Hill” (Einaudi), the poet tells how she opened a bookshop in the Garfagnana, re-establishing relationships and family ties

It is true that in the diary memories it draws an air of fairy tales Alba Donatifrom the Pavesian title The Library on the Hill (Einaudi). And in this key we understand the preceding inscription by Vita Sackville-West: “Once upon a time there was a queen who had a doll’s house … a doll’s house so wonderful that people came from all over to see it”. The Doll’s House is the bookshop of the title: not just any bookshop, but the Sopra la Penna bookshop founded by the “queen” Alba Donati in Lucignana, a Macondo of 180 souls in the Lucca Apennines. An independent bookstore that has become the symbol of a confidential and friendly culture, a doll’s house so wonderful that people come from all over to see it and from all corners of the world send “magical” objects for their customers. Friends (especially readers), Emily Dickinson calendar, socks labeled by pride and prejudice etc. The dream has come true on December 7, 2019 with a ceremonial inauguration when Covid wasn’t there and when it was there nobody could know. A wind of happiness blows but is always threatened: for this reason, alongside the fable, a famous poem by Montale resounds, expressing the provisional nature of every conquest: «Happiness reached, we walk for you / on the edge of a blade». After all, Montale floats a little all over poet Alba Donati’s book, President of the Vieusseux Cabinet whose library was headed by the poet for a decade in the distant past. And Montale will be the subject of the final exams for Laura, Alba’s daughter, which will bring the story to a close on June 11, 2020, ideally opening up to the future of generations to come. But here’s the go on the edge of a blade What counts is the sense of conscious fragility in abundance that shimmers in Alba Donati’s light script, a script as variable as the location’s meteorology.


So Alba has decided to change her life, leaving Florence and an established job in the press office related to culture and publishing to return home, given the many years before she was born in Lucignana and the bittersweet memories of her childhood brings with it. the shame of growing up in a house without a bathroom, the emptiness of a father who has left his family and left to his fate. The diary begins on January 20th and ends on June 20th, 2020: the worst five months of the pandemic coinciding with a new life entirely devoid of professional regrets but not devoid of shadows. The Sopra la Penna bookstore is a challenge a wooden building erected in a “wolf-proof fortress”. (there it is the fairy tale) to become a hub that attracts people and stories from the present and the past. And it is people and stories that cross or have crossed the history of Alba. A crowd from which stand out the centenarian father and mother, characters who, from real life, have the strength to step into literature when they meet again after decades of distance.


Because the story of the Donati family, like that of many other families, is a story of abandonment and unexpected return, of tears and healing. The “survivor” Alba proudly recognizes the patience to be able to repair the damage: “I have patience, I work unobtrusively, it always seems that I’m doing something else (…). It’s a job like any other, except that it takes a strong calling. I, a bookstore from Lucignana, repair distant things ». He will fix the library after the January 30, 2019 fire (via walking on a blade…). But among the things that he consolidates after many years, is above all the relationship between the two parents who, after many years of separation, find themselves in Lucignana in old age. In reality, Alba’s patient talent is something else: caring. We often find her in the garden in the morning, bent down on the ground to stroke the flowers, to talk to the herbs, as George Sand did as a child.

The diary of Alba Donati is a tangle of threads (the life of the bookstore, family memories, readings, country stories), but it is above all the story of a redemption through homecoming, through dialogue with nature and above all with books. They are the protagonists of Redemption, the books that attract crowds of distant readers to the hilltop, who have come from unexpected places after long journeys. The books that make other books read, in an endless chain: “The only form of eternity that we can experience is here on earth” is a sentence by Pia Pera, who is present in the book as a garden writer, as a writer and as a gardener is, muse and cultivator of eternity.

Communication and trust are the key words. That crowdfunding that the Lucignana bookstore has created is nothing more than a transmission of trust, solidarity and participation, Word of mouth that sparks love for a book and whose unstoppable motor is the library. The engine that drives Alba Donati’s memoirs is on the list of “agendas” that close the days. They are mostly surprising titles, enduring books, often rare, unattainable, not the ones that fill the charts: “We have ‘our books’ … It’s like a home library …”. Alba does not hesitate to side with what she calls books of comfort: literature also has an empowering function, for the people it tells and for the readers it addresses. “Arbitrary decisions? Perhaps. How to separate the narrators from the narrators. It came instinctively. But isn’t it something new in the last century for women to write? And if they write after centuries of silence, they will certainly have a lot of things to say, and they will say them in new ways. So isn’t it logical that they should have a few shelves all to themselves? Logical or not, that’s fine. Annie Ernaux, Joan Didion, Jamaica Kincaid are the most famous names. Others must be discovered. The reader will find many tips to say thank you to Alba Donati and the bookshop on the hill.

May 1, 2022 (change May 1, 2022 | 11:36 am)

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