This novel is set in Genoa, the labyrinthine port city (nicknamed ‘the Superb’) where the author has been living for the past five years. Migration is the central theme of this autobiographical story about a writer who becomes trapped in his walk on the wild side.
‘Emigrating is like writing a new novel, without yet knowing the plot, the ending, nor even the characters that will turn out to be crucial to the progress of the story,’ says Ilja Leonardo Pfeijffer, the self-confident ‘Italophile’ who addresses us in La Superba. In a long letter home he reports on his life as an explorer in Genoa and contrasts his fate with that of the dirt poor migrant workers from Africa who can barely keep their heads above water.La Superba is more than a touching story about fortune seekers who fall through the cracks.
The novel starts with the discovery, by the narrator, of a woman’s leg on the street. That leg will pop up repeatedly in his search for ‘the most beautiful girl in Genoa’, a quest that brings him into contact with the prostitutes, locals and outsiders of the port’s rougher districts and seaman’s bars. This is a pocket edition of Dante’s Inferno, written by an author who admits that he likes to exaggerate: ‘Let’s call it an exercise in style. But the fact that I exaggerate doesn’t mean what I say is untrue.’
Eventually the main character becomes hopelessly lost in his own fantasies, leaving his readers with the feeling they have been hallucinating while roaming through a metropolis. The destination was irrelevant; it was the journey that mattered. And anyone in danger of losing the thread could cling to the style of their guide, to those dynamic sentences full of depravity and high contemplation that Pfeijffer has produced in such quantities since his award-winning debut novel Rupert: A Confession (2002).
“Pfeijffer’s prose shocks and disturbs, and the reader both rejects what he says and yearns to hear more. . . . While the plot itself wanders, three predominant themes emerge: sexual identity, storytelling, and immigration, each a catalyst for transformation. . . . The book asks readers to reconsider the fragility of their own lives and identities and how easily they can be tested by mere relocation. It’s a sympathetic approach to the hidden struggles that immigrants of all backgrounds in Europe face, and a call to be more open and receptive to those on the outskirts of society — after all, it could easily be you.”
— Alina Cohen, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Abundantly rich in provocative thought.”
— Anna Patterson, World Literature Today
“If Italo Calvino decided to make one of his invisible cities visible, the result might look something like Pfeijffer’s Genoa: rooted in the real world of Europe in the age of mass migration, but abstract and mythic enough that the legendary Genoese travelers — Columbus, the Ostrogoths — could still find their way through its labyrinthine streets.”
— Benjamin Moser, author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector
“Tragedy and comedy, life and death, sex and love–these are just a few of the themes explored by Pfeijffer in his wise, brave, gripping novel.”
— Willard Manus, Lively Arts
“Deranged and hilarious…With a raucous style and barbed wit.”
— Peter Simek, D Magazine
“An enjoyable—and sometimes very funny—ride. Pfeijffer’s style is easy-going, but the poet in him remains attentive to language throughout: for all the casual feel of the novel, it’s also a carefully, even precisely written one. Good fun.”
— Michael Orthofer, The Complete Review
“Pfeijffer’s self-deprecating humor and moments of lyricism make La Superba a gem.”
— Rachel Cordasco, Bookishly Witty
“It’s witty throughout, it’s well written and it’s an ode to the imagination.”
— NRC Handelsblad
“You read his salutary, pleasure-seeking prose to feast upon language. Bravissimo.”