Edoardo Nesi, Other Press, 176 pages, $14.75
Edoardo Nesi’s short memoir conveys the exuberance of business when business was fun — when one could still “feel some sense of excitement and enthusiasm for work.” His family’s company, based in Prato, Italy, prospered as a weaver of high-quality velour and loden, an indestructible woolen for men’s overcoats.
Nesi recounts sales trips to Germany, racing at 170 mph down an autobahn to make an appointment, and recalls his pleasure at recreating wonderful textiles from old photographs of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fabulous woolen sweaters or Ernest Hemingway’s linen shirts.
But with exquisite timing, the Nesi men decided in 2004 to sell their business. They got out just before free trade and Asian imports decimated the business model that had sustained fine Italian textiles.
In “Story of My People,” Nesi frets over whether a captain of industry, like a captain at sea, is obliged to go down with the ship. His memoir becomes a eulogy to lost Italian greatness.
The book has clearly tugged at Italy’s heart. First published in Italian in 2010, it became the first nonfiction book to win the Strega Prize, Italy’s prestigious literary award. Nesi, a businessman no more, has written six novels, translated Stephen King and David Foster Wallace into Italian, and written and directed a movie. His book benefits from Antony Shugaar’s nicely colloquial English translation.
Nesi’s sense of loss will touch hearts much farther afield, wherever the West’s world-class industries have fallen to free trade and the Internet. So he is not alone. But neither his beloved industry nor any other is assured a place in the sun. He barely concedes that bad news for Italy’s textiles is good news for China’s.
The market giveth, and the market taketh away.