Daria Bignardi was born in 1961 in Ferrara and spent her childhood and adolescent years in the surrounding Emilia Romagna region. In 1984 she moved to Milan, where she embarked on a successful career in journalism and the media, writing for magazines and newspapers such as Panorama, La Stampa, Anna, Donna, and Vanity Fair. Additionally, she has presented numerous talk and reality shows (Il grande fratello, Invasioni barbariche, and L’era glaciale) for such major networks as Mediaset, La7, and RAI.
In 2009 she published her first novel, Non vi lascerò orfani, which won several literary prizes: the Rapallo Carige Prize for Women Writers, the Elsa Morante Prize for Prose Fiction, and the Premio del Libraio conferred by the city of Padua. Begun shortly after her mother’s death as an article for Vanity Fair, Non vi lascerò orfani is an autobiographical, daughter-centered narrative that examines Bignardi’s family history and underscores its peculiarities. Influenced by Natalia Ginzburg’s Lessico famigliare (1963, Family Sayings), Bignardi shares Ginzburg's interest in the idiosyncrasies of household turns-of-phrase. Her memories are steeped in language and in the peculiarities that characterized her parents’ speech patterns. Deriving its title from a tombstone inscription taken from St John’s Gospel, this autobiographical narrative takes as its point of departure the loss of her father, whom she visited on the last night of his life, and of her mother, with whom she always had a stormy relationship. Bignardi depicts her family with a colloquial and nostalgic tone: her mother emerges as an overzealous elementary school teacher always worried about her family’s well-being; her father, a representative for an animal food company, comes across as a jovial, laid-back lover of nature. In the background is her extended family circle, which includes a heterogeneous group of characters with very different political and religious affiliations. Regardless of their striking ideological differences, this gallery of ancestors is brought to life by the narrator’s generally affectionate and forgiving retrospection. Bignardi’s family, with its genealogy of saints and sinners, is unique in its cohesion, its ability to preserve family ties with a bond of love that transcends generational tensions.
Family dynamics also play an important role in Bignardi’s second book, Un karma pesante (2010), a first-person narrative that chronicles the life of a successful film director, Emilia Viola. In the novel, the protagonist’s sudden illness leads her to meditate on her existence: an impulsive woman who has always embraced new challenges, she leads a fast-paced existence until she suffers a panic attack that reveals her extreme exhaustion. Forced to slow down and reflect, Emilia looks back at her stormy life in a series of disconnected flashbacks that reconstruct her professional career and her marriage, her life as both film director and mother of two daughters. Compared to Non vi lascerò orfani, this fictional autobiography is imbued with anxiety, as if some of the personality traits of the author’s mother had been transmitted to this paper daughter. These two books have evident common traits. Apart from the intimate self-narration, both women are characterized by a strong connection with their families of origin. While in her autobiography Bignardi emphasizes the ties of loyalty that united all family members despite the difficult daughter-mother bond, her novel acquires more dramatic tones and a more complex narrative structure. Health problems and difficult family relationships mark the existence of a woman whose karma, as her doctor proclaims, is deemed to be particularly heavy. Set in contemporary Italy, Un karma pesante articulates the search for balance by a woman struggling to find herself in the midst of conflicting professional and personal responsibilities. As in many novels by contemporary women writers across the world, its protagonist is on the verge of yielding to the temptation of abandoning the professional arena. The allure of retreatism reflects the struggles many women face in a male-dominated work environment. Nonetheless, this self-possessed woman, who masks her insecurity with an unyielding work ethic, refuses to give up and instead remains open to the changes that life seems about to offer her.
Love, interpersonal relationships, professional aspirations, friendships, family ties, and motherhood feature prominently in Bignardi’s books. While her previous works follow the life-stories of a female protagonist, L’acustica perfetta (2013) gives voice to a male character, Arno, a musician whose wife suddenly leaves him. This unexpected event sets in motion a complex search to understand the reasons for her disappearance as well as a physical search for the missing wife. As is often the case with Bignardi’s novels, unearthing the past of a loved one and trying to understand what motivates apparently incomprehensible events constitute the fil rouge that ties together much of the narrative. In L’acustica perfetta as well as in many of her other novels, her protagonists search for answers while questioning the values that structure their existences. Giving relevance to the affective aspects of people’s lives, Bignardi weaves stories in which emotional ties dominate the plot.
Set in Emilia Romagna, L’amore che ti meriti (2014), as the title implies, centres on bonds of love within a family dynamic. This theme enables the protagonist to investigate her own family past against the background of the tumultuous years of the 1970s and 1980s. The novel shows how the personal intersects with the political past, the micro story connecting with the macro history.
With its allusion to St Rita, the patron saint of impossible causes, Santa degli impossibili (2015) tells a story of self-discovery through a female character whose life trajectory leads her to an encounter with a religious figure who marked her youth. As with other characters created by Bignardi, Mila, mother of three children, about to turn 40, presents the contradictions that characterize many educated middle-class women, who try to come to terms with their childhood aspirations and their current unsatisfactory existence. The spirituality of her youth, the sense of plenitude she experienced as a child return in unexpected ways to a woman who left the countryside to live in Milan.
Depicting the complexities of family dynamics, the dissatisfaction of female characters seems to be the hallmark of the output of this famous TV journalist. Known for her ability to dissect the most hidden aspects of her interlocutors in her interview programmes, she conceives literature as the space of introspection, in which ordinary middle-class people are made to confront who they are, their family history, their own intimate concerns, and, as her novel Storia della mia ansia (2018) makes explicit, the anxiety that besets many women. Coming to terms with the past, especially with past relationships, looms large in Bignardi’s novels, which as a result offer a mirror in which contemporary readers can discern aspects of their own personal lives. An illness, a disappearance, a fortuitous encounter, or the end of a love story prompt a process of self-questioning and self-discovery. The shadows of one’s past emerge to reveal the inner contradictions that make up that illusory sense of identity that we present to the public.
The vulnerability of human beings and the frailty of interpersonal bonds also structure her most recent novel, Oggi faccio azzurro (2020), in which the end of a love story sets in motion the protagonist’s search for meaning and healing. Trying to find a way out of depression, Gala travels to Germany, where a fortuitous encounter at an art gallery has long-lasting effects on her life. Reflecting on the complex emotions that accompany the speed of liquid modernity, Bignardi draws on her knowledge of contemporary Italian society to create in her novels a space for introspection, offering her readers a sympathetic mosaic of the human condition.
Her work has been translated into many languages, though not yet into English.
Compiled by Marina Bettaglio (Victoria, BC)
Non vi lascerò orfani (Milan: Mondadori, 2009)
Un karma pesante (Milan: Mondadori, 2010)
L'amore del mondo (Milan: Corriere della Sera, 2011)
L'acustica perfetta (Milan: Mondadori, 2012)
L’amore che ti meriti (Milan: Mondadori, 2014)
Santa degli impossibili (Milan: Mondadori, 2015)
Storia della mia ansia (Milan: Mondadori 2019)
Oggi faccio azzurro (Milan: Mondadori, 2020)
Translations into Foreign Languages
Perfecte akoestiek [Translation of Acustica perfetta by Manon Smits] (Amsterdam: Cargo, De Bezige Bij, 2014)
Accords parfaits [Translation of Acustica perfetta by Anaïs Bokobza] (Paris: Éditions Les Escales, 2014)
Meine sehr italienische Familie [Translation of Non vi lascerò orfani by Esther Hansen] (Berlin: List, 2010)
So glücklich wir waren [Translation of L’amore che ti meriti by Julika Brandestini] (Berlin: Erste Auflage, 2016)
یتیمان بزرگسال Yatīmān-i buzurgsāl [Translation of Non vi lascerò orfani by Khashāyār Khadīvar] (Teheran: Quqnūs, 2019)
Miłość, na jaką zasługujesz [Translation of L’amore che ti meriti by Katarzyna Skórska] (Wrocław: Edra Urban & Partner, 2016)
A acústica perfeita [Translation of Acustica perfetta by Joana Angélica d’Avila Melo] (Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil, 2015)
Любовь надо заслужить [Translation of L’amore che ti meriti by Iriny Bochenkovoĭ] (Moscow: Izdatelʹstvo AST, 2016)
Otkad si otišla [Translation of Acustica perfetta by Mirjana Popov Slijepčević] (Beograd: Evro_Giunti, 2013)
Krivika [Translation of L’amore che ti meriti by Gordana Subotić] (Beograd: Evro Giunti, 2016)
Popolna akustika [Translation of Acustica perfetta by Anita Jadrić] (Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 2015)
El amor que te mereces [Translation of L’amore che ti meriti by Montserrat Triviño] (Barcelona: Duomo Ediciones, 2017)
Historia de mi ansia [Translation of Storia della mia ansia by Montserrat Triviño] (Barcelona: Duomo Ediciones, 2019)
Artık gidebilirsin [Translation of Acustica perfetta by Eren Cendey] (İstanbul: Kırmızıkedi, 2014)