Orlando Ottolenghi

1 Apr

It can have come as no surprise when, in 1968, Orlando Ottolenghi won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Diaries of Vincent Vermicelli. Ottolenghi was born in dramatic circumstances in 1942 on the island of Gnocchi as war raged around the family home and an air-raid was at its height. His father, Maurizio Manicotti Ottolenghi had married his childhood sweetheart Louisa Linguine, the disabled daughter of the local baker, the ceremony taking place just as Mussolini was taking power.

Tragically the newly-weds’ first child, Pici, died before his twelfth birthday, but the second boy, Orlando, quickly showed promise in languages and creative writing. His teacher, Frederico Fettuccini, put the young prodigy forward for a scholarship to the University of Trofi. There his professor and mentor, Fillippo Farfalle supported Ottolenghi’s search for a publisher. His first book, a volume of poems entitled Strozzapreti was taken up by the publishing house Perciatelli in Rome. It was his editor, Tomaso Tagliatelle, who ensured an American audience for Ottolenghi, securing a deal with the publishers Boccoli and Festoni of Boston.

By now Ottolenghi was in love. In 1964 he married Constanza Conchiglie (she was later to write Vesuvio, a book of Italian haiku that won the Treccioni medal). The couple toured the United States during the late 1960s and found a country in turmoil at the height of the Vietnam War. The Diaries of Vincent Vermicelli struck a chord, dealing as it does with the Passatelli Conflict of the early seventeen hundreds. With a deft touch, Ottolenghi handles the themes of invasion, political ideology and the intertwining of personal and national fortunes. The distinguished critic Georgio Garganelli rated Ottolenghi’s masterpiece alongside that of both Chifferi and Gomiti. And who are we to argue?

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