by Vincenzo Califano

We have interviewed Raffaele Lauro in his role as a writer on his new literary work, which is now on the home straight: a historical novel dedicated to Sorrento. It is his tenth literary work after the onset in 1987 with "Roma a due piazze" published by Compagnia Editrice Italiana and awarded the "Premio Chianciano Fiction Debut". That successful debut was confirmed afterwards with the success of the historical novel "Il sogno di Pedro" published in 1993 by Rusconi Editore. The latest work appears to be complete and will be available in book stores in autumn. A quick look at future projects.

Let's talk about the title. Why "Sorrento The Romance"?

Sorrento, because it addresses the terrible tragedy suffered by Sorrento and Massa on 13 June 1558, when after the tragedy of Massa Lubrense our town was for the whole day horribly looted, burnt, desecrated and partially destroyed by the Turkish Admiral Piyale Pa?a, who first landed in Marina del Cantone, and then at Marina Grande with a fleet of 130 Ottoman galleys. An immense and forgotten tragedy of Sorrento, totally wiped from the collective consciousness. And the historical facts speak for themselves: in addition to thousands of dead, decapitated and disembowelled with cuts of sabers, more than 2000 people, both from Massa and Sorrento, were dragged hostage to Istanbul. The Romance, because historical events are interwoven with the adventurous and romantic human story of the protagonist, Marino Correale from Sorrento, entirely a fruit of my narrative invention, although treated in a Manzonian way with the criterion of historical verisimilitude.

A great cultural epic then, which will serve the communities of the Sorrento Peninsula to become aware of their past?

I hope that this effort of mine, which cost four and half years of hard work especially in recent months, will make a contribution to new generations by recovering the memory of that dramatic event caused by the stupidity and incompetence of the rulers of the time. It aspires to open a cultural debate with local governments, with political and social forces, institutions and cultural associations, with hotel companies and businesses to explore the future of Sorrento and the Sorrentine Peninsula. Also to be able to offer to the tourists visiting Sorrento a large historical fresco on our beloved city. A the national and international level, the novel will provide an in-depth analysis of the clash of civilizations between Islam and Christianity in the sixteenth century, which more than ever still exists even today in the scenery of painful, bloody and turbulent modern history. Similar is the theme of a "dream" of the architect Pedro Machuca, who on behalf of Charles V in Granada built on the Alhambra a palace which challenged the Moorish Alcazar.     

How is this epochal clash represented in the novel?

The novel, similarly to "Il sogno di Pedro", is a metaphor of the clash of civilizations, which in the testament aspiration of the protagonist can and must be transformed into peaceful coexistence among all the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as long as politics and the pursuit of power don't continue to exploit religions and divine revelation, like it's been happening until now. Marino Correale, as a Christian, converts to Islam and then is reconciled with Christianity, finally seeking refuge in Sorrento.

Is it a work of philosophical and religious as well as political and diplomatic content?

Certainly. From devotion of the Sorrentines to their patron saint St. Antoninus to the Book of the Prophet; from the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle to Averroes, whose assumptions I share: the search for truth through philosophy does not conflict with divine revelation, whether it happened in the Talmud, in the Bible or in the Koran.
The places of historical events, therefore, are not restricted to Sorrento?

Absolutely. The human story of Marino Correale runs between Sorrento before and after the assault, the court of the Ottoman sultans, Suleiman the Magnificent and Selim II, the Republic of Venice, the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the prisons of Madrid, with the process of the Spanish Inquisition, the conviction, the twenty-year-long imprisonment at Escorial, the conversion to Christianity and the return to Sorrento, where he retired in a convent incognito as Brother Antoninus, and where he died at dawn on 13 June 1600 at the age of 60.

Was it a ponderous commitment based on historical research?

I had to draw on original sources, because the authors of local homeland history in later centuries used the same information in sometimes contradictory way.

What were the original sources?

First of all, reports of the archbishops of Sorrento to the pope before and after the assault, and notary deeds for the inheritance of the alleged dead; petitions from Piano to the Viceroy of Naples and to the court of Spain against the fiscal oppression by the nobles of Sorrento; documents, including anonymous papers tracked in the National Library, in the Vatican Archive and in the Archdiocese of Sorrento; reports of Venetian ambassadors and bailiffs at the Sublime Porte; works of Arabic philosophers; secret dispatches of Grand Viziers; historical essays on the sixteenth century starting from Ludwig von Pastor; and the study of the acts of the Council of Trent and of Koranic suras in different interpretations. I will stop here. At the local level, recent essays on the historical period by the unforgettable Benito Iezzi and don Gabriele Russo, by the colleague Vincenzo Russo, by the architect Mario Russo, the cultural guardian of the Correale Museum, and in particular, by Professor Salvatore Ferraro and the tireless Fabrizio Guastafierro, who were tormented by me in recent years with requests, always timely addressed. The novel was written thanks to their contribution, for which I will always express my deep gratitude, as well as to the Diocesan librarian, Maria Grazia Spano, and to my assistant, Riccardo Piroddi.  

Who will you dedicate this work to?

To a Sorrentine who in the course of his life showed a great love for our city. My close friend, who recently passed away, Giannino Casola.

What is the size of the novel in number of pages?

Initially I planned to create three volumes. I decided then to avoid creating a series and to contain the story in one single volume of 450 pages.

When will we be able to read this challenging work?

The novel will be published in Italian and in English in late autumn. Versions in Spanish, Turkish and Chinese Mandarin will also be available by 2014. It will also be available in a form of an e-book on the website prepared by the webmaster Mauro Siniscalchi. He will illustrate the beauty of places visited by the protagonist in Sorrento, Massa Lubrense and on the Sorrentine Peninsula. The site will be enriched with the plot of the novel in different languages, videos of my interviews, narration of the chapters of the novel, journey of Marino Correale, coats of arms of historical characters, crops and foods and tour itineraries. Tourists from all over the world can with both hands gather information on the internet before coming to stay in Sorrento or after their stay.

In conclusion, what are the historical figures who have most affected you in this complex cultural path?

I have no doubts: the Archbishop of Sorrento, monsignor Giulio Pavesi, the Doge Andrea Gritti; Kanuni, Suleiman the Magnificent, and the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmet Pa?a. The first one of them was the protagonist of the spiritual, religious, civil and material reconstruction of our beloved city. He deserves a statue in the square, like St. Antoninus and Torquato Tasso. The second one, for his wisdom and political foresight. The third one, for the magnificence and the strategic vision of the Ottoman Empire. The fourth one, for the refined diplomacy and religious tolerance towards Christians and Jews, even in the course of bloody conflicts.

Are you happy with your work then?

Tired, but happy.

And what about your future narrative projects?

I will have a rest in August to start work in September on my next novel dedicated to a great tenor and a great artist, both in love with Sorrento: Enrico Caruso and Lucio Dalla. With the help of the closest Sorrentine friends of Lucio.

And its title?

"Caruso The Song", which resonates the stories of the two artists and the masterpiece of Lucius, which along with "Torna a Surriento" spreads the name of Sorrento all over the world. Also in 2015 I will complete an old narrative project on Pompeii and Camorra, entitled "Pompeii The Prophecy".

Sorrento, July 2013

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