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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction


Claudio Magris

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To purchase Snapshots

Title: Snapshots
Author: Claudio Magris
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2016) (Eng. 2019)
Length: 136 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Snapshots - US
Snapshots - UK
Snapshots - Canada
Instantanés - France
Schnappschüsse - Deutschland
Istantanee - Italia
  • Italian title: Istantanee
  • Collects pieces first published in Corriere della Sera between 1999 and 2016
  • Translated by Anne Milano Appel

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Our Assessment:

B : nice little variety of short pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Corriere della Sera . 11/10/2016 Cristina Taglietti
La Croix . 20/12/2018 François d’Alançon
Le Figaro . 6/12/2018 Christian Authier
L'Humanité . 3/1/2019 Didier Pinaud
Libération . 2/1/2019 V. Bloch-Lainé

  From the Reviews:
  • "Le Istantanee sono anche ritratti autobiografici fatti un po’ di sbieco, dove l’autore non è mai un protagonista in primo piano, ma è presente come osservatore discreto e ironico, pronto a riconoscere e denunciare, nelle debolezze del prossimo, anche le proprie. (...) E mentre nei romanzi di Magris i rapporti sono sempre visti nel loro aspetto amoroso, qui il tono è spesso più acre, anche se bonario." - Cristina Taglietti, Corriere della Sera

  • "Assis à la table d’une auberge, en vadrouille à Istanbul ou à Bénarès, ou à bord de la « Flèche blanche » entre Milan et Trieste, l’écrivain se fait observateur discret et ironique, prompt à reconnaître ses propres faiblesses dans celles des autres. (...) L’humour n’exclut pas une certaine gravité." - François d’Alançon, La Croix

  • "Les Instantanés s’en prennent à l’égoïsme et à la vanité. (...) Les plus délicats passages d’Instantanés sont ceux dans lesquels Claudio Magris se tient face à des enfants et se juge lui-même." - Virginie Bloch-Lainé, Libération

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Snapshots is a collection selected from short pieces Magris published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera between 1999 and 2016 (which, oddly, is not noted in the book). They are indeed 'snapshots', of different sorts, and generally inspired by or about a specific small incident or observation -- including the occasional actual photographic snapshot, such as Geraldine Moodie's photograph captioned 'Koo-tuck-tuck'. Reflective and anecdotal, the original observation is often only a springboard to surprisingly different thoughts or conclusions -- not entirely rambling (the pieces are too short and tight to really allow that), but entertainingly digressive, and occasionally leading to some nice, unexpected twists.
       While centered around Trieste and northern Italy, there is an almost touristic feel to many of these, a drifting to -- or popping in -- in a variety of places around the world, from Russian St.Petersburg to Varanasi to New York. Magris often addresses significant issues, but there's an intentionally leisurely approach to getting to his subjects, as he focuses on the timeless rather than the events of the particular day; so also, despite covering the period from 1999 to 2016 there's little immediacy as to the most notable events that occurred during this period. Hence, for example, he'll often begin a piece as though the past had just caught up to him, triggered by some present-day reminder -- one piece begins: "A session of the Trieste city council, years ago" -- or something he eventually stumbled across, as in, for example, a piece on censorship that opens with a titbit he learned: "belatedly, thanks to the seaside indolence of August on a Dalmatian island that piles up stacks of outdated newspapers and weeklies".
       There are some very amusing anecdotes, such as that of the mathematics lecturer invited to present a course at the Collège de France who is surprised to find the lecture-hall filled to capacity despite his subject matter being inaccessible to all but a few experts in the field -- and that even the subsequent classes he gives are similarly packed. As it turns out, there's a reasonable explanation why: "the mathematician for the entire year lectured to an overflow crowd that was totally uninterested in him" -- a situation that reminds Magris of most conferences he is familiar with.
       Another piece has him -- writing ten years after the fact -- in New York, visiting Leo Castelli at his gallery on a day when all the art works on the walls are covered by black cloth, in protest against a judge's ruling on charges of obscenity against some artist or gallery. It's a nice little scene of visiting the gallerist, taking an amusing turn when a visitor comes to see the current exhibit, unaware of the circumstances.
       Often the experiences are personal -- Magris on the scene, or somehow involved -- but there are some which are more general: he comments on a story about orphaned frozen embryos (allowing also for a quick swipe at the "puffed-up work" Freakonomics), 1-800 numbers, or a contemporary translation of a Soviet cookbook. Coming across a photocopy of a page from a Thomas Mann biography, Magris is fascinated by Mann's wife and daughter's hesitation about whether or not to disturb the master during his 'sacred hours' (of writing) to let him know that World War II has broken out -- finding (surely very debatably):

     Mann is a great writer to whom much is owed, but at that moment -- his fault ? that of the women in his family ? -- he is ludicrous and obtusely inhuman by remaining in his office, quietly reflective and engrossed, entirely absorbed by his literary work.
       The line between personal and observational is nicely crossed in the final piece, 'Selfie', where it initially seems Magris is only describing a scene, before revealing that he is in fact one of the participants in it (in rather shameful manner).
       Snapshots is a fine little collection of stray and varied pieces -- not much more than morsels, really, but nicely expressed and with some thoughtful observations and nicely captured scenes in them. With its very short pieces it's ideal for dipping into.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 March 2019

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Snapshots: Reviews: Claudio Magris: Other books by Claudio Magris under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Claudio Magris was born in 1939.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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