On Valentina d’Urbano’s Il Rumore Dei Tuoi Passi – The Sound of Your Footsteps (2012)


Valentina D’Urbano is a young Italian novelist. Il Rumore dei tui passi (The Sound of  Your Footsteps) is her first novel. She won a publishing contract with Longanesi thanks to a competition. The novel has been translated into French under the title Le bruit de tes pas and into German Mit zwanzig hat man kein Kleid für eine Beerdigung. Hopefully an English translation will be next.

This novel is like a kick in the gut. It describes a world we dont know anything about, but it’s a world that the young writer knows all too well, as she grew up under similar circumstances.

The book is set in Rome, in La Fortezza – The Fortress -, in the late 70s and 80s. It starts with a funeral and a laconic voice telling us that her “twin” has died. Bea and Alfredo are called the twins because they are inseparable, not because they are siblings. They met because their families both live in La Fortezza – this is also a nickname. La Fortezza is some sort of abandoned housing project where the poorest of the poor land. Most of the families are squatters and their miserable, small apartments can be snatched from them at all times. “Never leave your apartment unattended” is one of the earliest lessons Bea, her brother Francesco, Alfredo and Arianna, her best friend, learn at an early age. If you leave the apartment, it’s possible that when you come back, you’ll find that all your belongings have been thrown from a window and another family claims the place.

La Fortezza is a place without hope. Most people have no job and will never have one; they drink or take drugs; they hit their children and their wives. They have no chance of ever getting out because when they apply for a job somewhere and have to say they come from la Fortezza, it’s over. People from La Fortezza are not hired. They are said to be criminals and drug addicts.

One way of dealing with a bleak situationlike this is domestic violence and addiction, another is to look the other way. Nothing is named in La Fortezza. People and things have nicknames. Bad situations are ignored. Arianna can get pregnant at 15 and abort and nobody will ever speak about it.

Bea’s mother got pregnant with Bea when she was only 15. She and Bea’s father were lucky to be able to live in La Fortezza. It’s one step from being homeless. They rarely have jobs, but at least they are kind and caring. The familial environment is rough; there’s a lot of swearing, the kids are slapped, but in spite of that Bea and Franceso know their parents love them and do everything for them. They even accept Alfredo in their home. Alfredo lives above and his father is anything but kind and caring. He’s a single parent, unemployed, alcoholic and beats up his three sons regularly. More than once, someone has to interfere and make sure he doesn’t kill them.

Bea’s and Alfredo’s feelings for each other are deep. But it’s a love-hate relationship, one that strengthens them as much as it weakens them.

From the beginning we know things go wrong, or Alfredo wouldn’t be dead and Bea wouldn’t attend his funeral.

Valetina d’Urbano’s book is written in an amazing, sparse style, told in a painfully laconic voice which isn’t devoid of tenderness. This is not the Rome tourists see. This world is far from anything most Europeans know. This is poverty at its ugliest. All they have is dreams. Some have the power to make them come true. Most don’t.

Interestingly it’s a book that contains a lot of beautiful passages and it certainly makes us think. People in this novel sit on the balcony in summer, making plans for holidays at the sea that they will never take. They are overwhelmed with joy when they own more than one sweater. Reading a book like this certainly shows us that we’re not as grateful as we could be. And it illustrates that this type of poverty is as bad as a congenital disease. Escaping it is almost impossible.

D’Urbano is particularly good at descriptions. We feel the suffocating heat in summer, the cold in winter, we experience the frustration and boredom they have to endure.

I admire that she was able to escape this world and that she didn’t turn this book into a pity-party. It’s a powerful account of a hidden world, a story I’m not likely to forget.


20 thoughts on “On Valentina d’Urbano’s Il Rumore Dei Tuoi Passi – The Sound of Your Footsteps (2012)

  1. This reminds me of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (terrible title) for its subject matter–living in poverty–although the Tony Hogan book manages to be upbeat somehow. Too bad this isn’t in English yet.

    • I thought of your book review.
      This one is not upbeat at all and you can sense she chose to set it in the 70s/80s (before she was born) to get some distance.

    • I hope so. It’s odd that it wasn’t translated yet as it’s clearly a success in Germany and France and has been compared to Paolo Giordano. I’d like to compare them.

  2. I may have to dust off my French dictionary for this one, Caroline. It reminds me of A Fine Balance, in that having a pair of shoes is a cause to celebrate. I never looked at possessions the same way again after that book.
    Would love to know how the author escaped her origins.

    • I would like to know that as well. It must have been very hard.
      I still haven’t read A Fie Balance but I’m suspect this book is bleaker.
      I can’t say I hope you will “like” it as “like isn’t the right word.

  3. Great review Caroline.

    Portraits of such bleak places can really contain beauty in all sorts of ways. It is part of what art is, which is in itself, to some degree a reflection upon life.

    Without a doubt, many of us who have it pretty good in life forget just how good we have it.

    • Thanks, Brian. Europe is very diverse when it comes to affluence. Places like La Fortezza do not exist in Switzerland. We don’t see beggars in the streets. It’s good to remember that it’s not the same elsewhere.
      Poverty brings material simplicity – a forced one, but still – and simplicity has it’s beauty.

  4. Beautiful review, Caroline! This looks like a powerful book. For some reason Valentina d’Urbano’s name rings a bell, but I am not sure where I have heard her name as her books haven’t come out in English yet. Though the theme of the book is quite bleak, glad to know that there are many beautiful passages. I would love to read that passage where the two friends are having a conversation on how they would spend summer on the beach – something that is outside the realm of possibility for them. If we can’t dream, life will be too hard. I love the Italian title of the book – I didn’t know that ‘rumore’ meant ‘sound’. I see the English word ‘rumour’ is a totally new light now.

    I hope the English translation of the book comes out soon. I would love to read it.

    • Thanks, Vishy. I hope they will translate it. The German title is puzzling. It has nothing to do with the original. It say “At 20 you don’t own a dress for a funeral.” No idea why they chose this title. Rumore means sound and noise But The Noise of your footsteps sounded very wrong. 🙂
      Bea’s father dreamed all the time. And her name is a sign of hope as well. It’s short for Beatrice and – it’s seems – is an allusion to Dante.
      She’s already published another novel, so hopefully. It’s strange to understand why there is a FRench and German translation right away but no English one.

  5. This sounds like a great book. I would love to read it. It might upset me if the decription is as real as you said but it would be a fascinating read.
    Hopefully it’ll translated into English soon

    • It was fascinating and upsetting as well. It’s also upsetting to see how society traeted them juts because they were born there.
      I hope it gets translated.

  6. I recently picked up two Italian translations: Quiet Chaos written by Sandro Veronesi and The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano. It’s wonderful to see the breadth of modern Italian literature. I’m glad that some of these works are being translated into English and I hope The Sound of Your Footsteps is translated soon also.

    • It has been compared to the Solitude of Prime Numbers, therefore I think, it has a chance.
      There’s an incredible amount of great Italian writers at work today. Especially women. Elena Ferrante amon others. There’s a kindle short story collection that looks very interesting. After the War: A Collection of Short Fiction by Postwar Italian Women. I think I’ll get it.

  7. What a powerful-sounding book! Is this the winner of the Italian reality-tv writing contest? I heard about that when a friend sent me a newspaper article on it. Apparently so few people read in Italy that they decided they had to try to make books cool again by featuring them on a television competition show. It sounded bizarre and sensible all at once! In any case, all kudos to the author for having escaped what sounds like a hugely disadvantaged beginning in life.

    • I’ve read that article as well and thought it sounded bizarre and interesting at the same time.
      But, no, that’s not her. She won a competition from a literary magazine.
      It’s a powerful book. I admire her as well.

  8. Lucky me! it’s available in my language.
    I wasn’t blown away by the Paolo Giordano I’ve read but it doesn’t matter. I usually like Italian literature. This one goes on the wish list. Thanks for reviewing it.

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