Published in 1958, Sessanta racconti is the most important collection of short stories by the Italian novelist and short story writer Dino Buzzati, born in 1906 in Belluno in northern Italy. As referred to in the title, it brings together sixty stories that portray a fantastic reality. The first thirty-six stories had already been published in three previous books, I sette messaggeri, Paura alla Scala, and Il crollo della Baliverna. Sessanta racconti also offers a glimpse into the author’s complex aesthetic, from loneliness to existential anxiety, including the nature of time, waiting, and absurdity.
Buzzati’s uncanny, fantastic reality
Taking Tzvetan Todorov‘s theory into account, Buzzati’s short stories are remarkable examples of how the fantastic genre works. In his The Fantastic, the Bulgarian literary critic suggests that a distinguishing feature of this genre is the clash between two realities: the real world and the supernatural one.
Using plain and simple language, Buzzati merges reality with fantasy, to the point that the latter becomes familiar, almost natural. “When I relate something of a fantastic nature, I must make the greatest effort to render it plausible and convincing”, he said in an interview.
In Sessanta racconti, the uncanny lurks into and twists the ordinary. In Una goccia, for example, a drop of water mysteriously starts climbing the steps of a staircase. While Qualcosa era successo is about a normal Italian train heading to some unnamed apocalypse, in Sette piani a man with a mild fever enters a hospital but never leaves. For some reason, the doctors keep moving him progressively down the floors of the hospital, until he arrives on the first one, that of the “condemned”. I topi tells instead the story of a seemingly normal countryside house with some mice. Somehow, it turns into a haunted place.
A versatile artist
He mainly found fame as a novelist and short story writer, yet Buzzati was an extremely versatile figure. After working as a journalist with the Italian navy during the Second World War, he became a journalist at Corriere della Sera, as well as a painter, a stage designer and a librettist. “Painting and writing are ultimately the same thing for me. Whether I write or paint, I pursue the same goal – telling stories,” he once claimed.
He wrote children’s stories too, including the Famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia, The Bears’ Famous Invasion Of Sicily. Compared to Franz Kafka‘s The Castle, Buzzati’s masterpiece Il Deserto dei Tartari, or The Tartar Steppe, was published in 1940 and tells the story of a young army officer guarding a forgotten frontier outpost. It inspired John Maxwell Coetzee‘s Waiting for the Barbarians. For Sessanta racconti, he won the Strega Prize, the most prestigious Italian literary award. Along with Italo Calvino and Tommaso Landolfi, Buzzati is considered one of the greatest Italian writers of the fantasy genre.