Sicilian writer Giovanni Frazzetto is on his way to Cork this week to read at the city’s short story festival, writes Marjorie Brennan.
AS John Doone famously wrote, “No man is an island”. Connection and how we relate to others has been an overarching theme of literature since time immemorial.
It was also a subject that fascinated molecular biologist Giovanni Frazzetto who, in his new book Together, Closer: Stories of Intimacy in Friendship, Love and Family, blends science with fiction in portraying the stories of eight relationships.
“In the different stories, I touch on several aspects of the science of intimacy and that helped me to set the scene for the characters that are involved. I use the science as a backbone, to try and build the stories,” says Frazzetto.
“I have always been interested in relationships. I am not a psychologist or psychotherapist, but I do believe in the power of psychotherapy. I thought that intimacy was a larger subject to explore because it belongs to all kinds of relationships and also because loneliness is an epidemic. I believe we can be perfectly fine on our own but if we are not, it is important to talk about it.”
The book, which Frazzetto will be discussing at the Cork International Short Story Festival, features universal themes that give readers an insight into their own behaviour and relationships.
“I hope readers will learn something about behaviour and can take solace in identifying with the stories. It is rewarding to receive comments from readers saying, ‘there is so much of me in each of your characters’.”
Frazzetto is passionate in his belief that science and literature should not be viewed as disparate topics to be explored in isolation.
“Even though I have a background in science, for me, neuroscience is never enough so in my own life, I ask what I can learn from neuroscience and what can I learn from reading a novel. We look to science for answers, to learn how to live. You need to marry science with the humanities because they are all valid forms of knowledge. We can learn how to live, drawing from all kinds of perspectives — science is one but we need to ensure culture, literature, art and the social sciences are not underrepresented. We need to keep a good balance.”
When I ask Frazzetto whether he would describe himself as a neuroscientist or a writer, he laughs.
“That is a difficult question. I am a lapsed neuroscientist in the sense that I do not work in a lab anymore. What I do in my academic work is to bridge science and the humanities. I say I am someone who has a background in science and is a writer. I use the writing to deliver concepts in science.”
Frazzetto echoes concerns that we are losing the capacity for intimacy due to our reliance on technological modes of communication.
“These forms of communication represent a form of safety — there will always be some distance, and people can use them to avoid real intimacy.
“Some people argue that no matter how remote or virtual the communication is, it is still a form of connection. However, it has resulted in interesting changes in habit, such as not phoning people any more, just sending a text message; not going to meet a person, using a screen instead. Nothing replaces a real encounter with a person. This is something we need to watch.”
Frazzetto, who is originally from Sicily, has lived in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, for almost two years.
“I had a lot of Irish friends in Berlin, where I lived, so I came here on holiday and drove around. One of the first places I visited was Cork and West Cork and I really liked it. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of coming here before — there are a lot of similarities between Ireland and Sicily. Italians who speak English — that is the feeling I got in Ireland.”
What does he think of how Irish people handle relationships and intimacy?
“That is something I am still discovering, it is a little too early to say. I finished the book here and there are some Irish characters in it. I have noticed a sweet shyness, a
coyness which I think pertains to the value that Irish people attribute to intimacy,” he says.
Frazzetto is fluent in Italian, German and French. Now he is hoping to add Irish to that list.
“I love learning languages but Irish is challenging; the sounds are wonderful but the spelling is atrocious. I won’t give up, give me some time.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved