11 of the best Italian novels set in Italy and Italian authors

Would you like to learn more about Italy by exploring contemporary Italian literature and culture? I’ve chosen these great Italian novels by famous Italian authors because they’re all set in Italy and you can get them in English from your favorite online retailer. There are quite a few books set in Italy out there. These are the ones written by the Italians. These novels will take you across multi-colored regional realities, different social classes, and local customs. These are the books the Italians have praised during the current and the past century. Italian novels by Italian authors will give you more information and insights into the Italian culture and people than what you could get from traveling to Italy. The books are set in different ages, from the Middle Ages to the present time. The authors are often journalists and scholars who aspired to recreate the authentic historic settings, and some of them tell true stories.

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1. Italian Folk Tales – Italo Calvino – 1956

Calvino is one of my favorite Italian authors and many of his novels were translated into English. The Italian Folk Tales include 200 local stories from all over the Italian peninsula. These have been transmitted for centuries by word of mouth. Italo Calvino, one of the best Italian writers of all times, translated this immense cultural heritage from the local dialects into standard Italian infusing it with the poignant tone typical of his writing style. Regional diversity is a distinctive trait of Italian culture. If you are interested in knowing more about Italian local traditions and the stories that you won’t find in history books nor in travel guides, dive straight into this collection of stories from Italian folklore.

Italian author novelist Stefano Benni
Stefano Benni, photo credits © Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons

2. Stefano Benni – Timeskipper – 2001

Stefano Benni is my generation’s (1980) most beloved author. Surprisingly, my parents’ generation is very much into his novels too, and I hope that the next generation will be, at the right time. I read most of his work and spent quite some time thinking of how I could reach out to him and deliver my manuscript for feedback. Except I don’t have one yet! Of all the Italian novels I know, this is the one I could read over and over again. The prose is compelling as Benni plays with language, create words out of fantasy, and makes fun of the Italians’ habits and contradictions. There is often a clever critic of contemporary society, a bitter pill that you will swallow together with very juicy content.

The Timeskipper is slightly autobiographic and moves across the changes and challenges Italy faced from the post-WW2 years to the dawning of the globalization era.

3. Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose – 1980

This Italian novel is popular all over the globe and you might have heard about the film of the same name. The author, Umberto Eco, is an academic researcher in many fields: semiology, philosophy, and linguistics just to name a few. The Name of the Rose is an Italian mystery novel set in a Benedictine Monastery in northern Italy during the Middle Ages. The evocative descriptions of life in the monastery, along with the gloomy medieval atmosphere which hides many secrets will entangle every reader. You won’t be able to put the book down until you find out who committed the murder and why. When you’re done with the book, I suggest you watch the movie directed by Jean Jaques Annaud and starring Sean Connery.

4. Nicolo’ Ammaniti – I’m not scared – 2001

The novel I’m not scared tells the story of Michele, a 9-year-old growing up in a small farming community in 1970s southern Italy. Michele’s summers are simple and free, spent playing across the infinite wheat fields with his sister and peers until he discovers something so bad he can’t even tell his broke but loving parents about it. This book is a must-read if you love an Italian novel with a captivating plot set in agricultural southern Italy. And you shouldn’t miss the movie by Italian director Gabriele Salvatores either, which features spectacular actors and photography. Better if you Have a tissue at hand…


5. Margaret Mazzantini – Don’t move – 2001

The author, which is one of the most brilliant Italian female writers, sharply and faithfully portrays contemporary Italian society through the unofficial, tragic love story between a middle-class married man and a woman with a problematic life. This novel has no room for stereotyped situations or concepts. The narration will lead you through the infinite spectrum of human emotions and when you’ll re-emerge you will feel like you’ve really gone through a lot, or maybe too much. Margaret Mazzantini isn’t afraid to investigate the human soul and to talk about uncomfortable truths that are both Italian and international.

6. Dacia Maraini – The Silent Duchess – 1990

This is the story of the life of Marianna Ucria, a noblewoman living in 18th Century Sicily. Marianna is “special”: she’s deaf and dumb yet she feels and understands as everyone else does, and even better. The novel was acclaimed for the historic reconstruction and for the rich plot. It has already inspired millions of readers all over the world. Get it immediately if you want to experience Sicily as it was 300 years ago and to know what is the shocking secret that lies behind Marianna’s disability.

7.  Goliarda Sapienza – The art of joy 1976

This Italian novel, which gained remarkable success overseas, isn’t the favorite subject of mainstream Italian literary critics. It was published posthumously by the Alternative Press publishing house. The author was a Sicilian theatre actress, director, and teacher. What felt uncomfortable about “The Art of Joy”, why should you read it, and why isn’t it praised by the intellectual establishment? The protagonist, Modesta, is an energetic woman born into a miserable family and later sold to a nunnery. The “art of joy” is what makes her thrive through the storm life throws at her and the uncertainty of the future. If you want to know more about Modesta’s life philosophy and how she managed to put her dreams before anything else, get this ebook immediately.

8. Christ stopped at Eboli, the story of a year – 1945

The novel by Carlo Levi is one of the pillars of contemporary Italian literature. This is a real journey that happened in the years 1943-44 during the fascist regime. The anti-fascist Italian author, who was born and grew up in northern Italy, gets exiled to the Basilicata region in the South. The experience is life-changing. In the book, Carlo Levi tells everything about the period spent in the village of Aliano, where he gets in touch with a “culture” very distant from his background, yet perfectly resonating with the chords in his heart. Christ stopped at Eboli is considered one of the most beautiful Italian novels and can be your ticket to explore the world of agricultural Italy, which has been the “real” Italy for a very long time, before all the tourism, fashion, the dolce vita, and exteriority came into play.

9. Andrea Camilleri – The shape of the water, Inspector Montalbano book 1 – 1994

The fame of Salvo Montalbano, a policeman fighting the Mafia in Sicily, has overcome the Italian borders. In Italy, the success of the adventures of Inspector Montalbano is also due to the release of a popular TV series retracing the novels.

The Shape of the Water (not to be confused with a different novel of the same name by a Spanish author), is the first episode of the Montalbano saga. Reading the English edition, you might not be able to enjoy the inflection from the Sicilian dialect. What you will surely appreciate, instead, is the inspector’s personality: a great lover of good food and slow life, loyal to his partner who works in another city even if he meets sensual women by the day, due to his job. And, regarding his job, this policeman knows how to fight for justice and not be deceived by the shape of things… This novel by Andrea Camilleri will make you long for Sicily. You will be dreaming of peaceful walks along the beach and delicious meals, like the ones that Salvo Montalbano has every day in the small Sicilian town where he serves his fellow citizens with humanity and humility. I read at least 10 out of the 30+ novels about Inspector Montalbano’s investigations and I’ve found all of them intriguing and completely realistic. A faithful portrait of a phenomenon that’s already common knowledge: the Mafia is a powerful criminal organization that permeates every aspect of contemporary society, in Italy and the world.

Italian female author novelist
Elsa Morante | Italian female author novelist

10. Elsa Morante – Arturo’s island, 1957

Arturo’s Island is a novel by female Italian author Elsa Morante, published in the late 1950s. The novel is set on the small island of Procida, off the harbor of Pozzuoli in Campania, southern Italy, next to the better-known island of Ischia.
Arturo is a boy who has to grow up without parents. Orphaned by his mother, his father is absent most of the time.
Abandoned to himself, Arturo spends his time running around in the wild nature of “his” uncontaminated island, fantasizing about his life and the little world he lives in. He believes his father is away because he’s an explorer.
As time progresses and Arturo grows up, the illusory narrative on which his inner life was based slowly crumbles.
Arturo is forced to swallow heavy truths, to grow up, to choose whether he wants to stay within the deceptive confines of Procida, or venture onto the mainland.
This novel of formation is absolutely one of the most beloved Italian novels of all time. I won’t tell you more, or I’ll spoil it…

11. Paolo Giordano – The Solitude of Prime Numbers, 2008

This Italian novel became a literary case because Paolo Giordano was the youngest Italian author to receive the Strega Prize for literature.
The novel tells the story of the love relationship between Alice and Mattia, who met in their compulsory school days. In the background, a childhood marked by traumatic episodes brings them together and haunts them as they grow up. Mattia’s twin sister, as a child, disappeared while playing in a park. Alice, on the other hand, became lame as a result of a skiing injury. Mattia and Alice’s story revolves around their continuous encounters and separations.
They follow different paths, have their own experiences, the story tells of these two parallel lives.
A curiosity… The catchy title of the novel was chosen by the publisher, instead, the author intended to call his book “In and out of the water”.


Let me know which of these Italian novels and authors inspire you better! They all have written more than one successful book, so see if you can find more of their work in the English language…


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