How I Chose itAbout a month ago, following my usual process for choosing a foreign novel to read, I made a list of Italian novels to consider. About a week ago, I asked my Italian teacher for some suggestions for novels suitable for a strong intermediate reader. He sent links to a few web sites that listed books that are popular in Italy at the moment. Camilleri was the only name to turn up on both lists.
I really like crime stories, and the Inspector Montalbano series sounded interesting. If any of the reviews complained about the unusual language in the books, I missed that entirely.
What happened when I tried to read itFrom the very first page, I found myself looking up way too many words that didn't exist in the dictionary. This slowed me down a lot because I'd try switching dictionaries, then checking Wikipedia, and finally highlighting the word for later. Sometimes there would be two or three unknown words in a single sentence. Given the setting, I had expected to encounter a few Sicilian terms in the dialogue, but not in the narration. Regardless, I forged on to the end of the first chapter.
Even with all that trouble, I did get the gist of the story. A couple of garbage men doing their morning rounds and complaining about their bosses find the dead body of someone they know. They report it to the local police, commanded by Salvo Montalbano. In retrospect, I'm amazed I got that much out of it.
It's not just that it took a couple of hours to do this--it was painful. Still, figuring that perhaps there were only a few words I'd need to know for the rest of the book, I went back to the start and looked up the mystery words online. Or at least I tried to.
The first unknown term, cummigliava probably meant "accumulated," but Wordreference didn't have it, Linguee didn't have it. I consulted an online Sicilian-Italian dictionary, and that didn't have it either. Finally I did a Google search for it, and I found this article:
‘I am Montalbano/Montalbano sono’: Fluency and Cultural Difference in Translating Andrea Camilleri’s Fiction, by Saverio Tomaiuolo
There I learned that I'm not the only one who has trouble reading this author's work.
Why I abandoned itThe author has loaded it with words that he himself invented by merging words from the Sicilian dialect with standard Italian words. Apparently Italians find this entertaining--my Italian teacher told me that he's hugely popular over in Italy, and that you can figure out most of the words by doing Google searches on them because there are all sorts of web sites where people argue over what they're supposed to mean.
I actually considered that. After all, even time spent reading someone's Italian web page is time spent reading Italian, but what put me off the idea is the fact that I don't want to be memorizing a bunch of non-words. Not when there are so many real words I need to add to my Italian vocabulary.
So even though Italians love Camilleri's work, I think students of Italian need to stay away from it.