Alessandro Spina — the nom de plume of Benghazi-born author Basili Shafik Khouzam — died last year, two weeks before André Naffis-Sahely came to an agreement with a London publisher to translate his epic The Confines of the Shadow, which, Naffis-Sahely writes, “belongs alongside panoptic masterpieces like Buddenbrooks, The Man Without Qualities and The Cairo Trilogy“:
The Confines of the Shadow is a 1300-page multi-generational epic set in Benghazi, a series of novels and short stories that map the country’s transformation from “a sleepy Ottoman backwater in the 1910s to the second capital of an oil-rich kingdom in the 1960s.”
Spina, who came to write in Italian, was twelve years old in 1939, when Italy officially annexed Libya. By that time, Naffis-Sahely writes in The Nation, Italians already made up thirteen percent of the country’s population.
Spina spent much of his life in Libya, where he chronicled life in his century. He began to publish in the 1970s. Naffis-Sahely:
This did not impair Spina’s writing, Naffis-Sahely writes, but “it certainly impacted its publication.” Spina fled Libya in 1980, and when he did, he was forced to smuggle out a manuscript in the French consul’s briefcase. After this, Spina retired to Padergnone, where he worked on completing The Confines of the Shadow.
According to Naffis-Sahely, it is the “fleeting junctures in time that infuse Spina’s sophisticated prose with such an unbridled sense of adventure. Besides being the ‘right’ person” to pen the epic, “Spina also found himself in the right place at the right time: a Christian Arab born during the apogee of colonial power, who then consolidated his Western education with his intimate knowledge of Libyans and Middle Eastern customs[.]”
From the publisher:
Naffis-Sahely also shares, in his piece about Spina for The Nation, a charming run-in with the poet Vittorio Sereni that Spina described in his diary. It apparently took place in the early 1980s, and had Sereni introducing Spina to his wife as: “Darling, this is Alessandro Spina, who is trying to make Italians feel guilty about their colonial crimes, all to no avail of course.”
The Confines of the Shadow was awarded Italy’s Premio Bagutta in 2007 and the Premio Cavallini in 2011. In order to bring it into English, London’s Darf Publishing house is trying to raise £8,000 to underwrite production costs of the 1300-page work.
The first volume is set to arrive in January 2015. A £10 donation will get you an advance copy.
The Indiegogo Campaign can be found at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/alessandro-spina-s-the-confines-of-the-shadow).