Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer
An irresistible combination of migrant novel, perverse travel guide and postmodern ode to the imagination
This novel is set in Genoa, the labyrinthine port city (nicknamed ‘the Superb’) where the author has been living for the past five years. Migration is the central theme of this autobiographical story about a writer who becomes trapped in his walk on the wild side.
‘Emigrating is like writing a new novel, without yet knowing the plot, the ending, nor even the characters that will turn out to be crucial to the progress of the story,’ says Ilja Leonardo Pfeijffer, the self-confident ‘Italophile’ who addresses us in La Superba. In a long letter home he reports on his life as an explorer in Genoa and contrasts his fate with that of the dirt poor migrant workers from Africa who can barely keep their heads above water.La Superba is more than a touching story about fortune seekers who fall through the cracks. The novel starts with the discovery, by the narrator, of a woman’s leg on the street. That leg will pop up repeatedly in his search for ‘the most beautiful girl in Genoa’, a quest that brings him into contact with the prostitutes, locals and outsiders of the port’s rougher districts and seaman’s bars. This is a pocket edition of Dante’s Inferno, written by an author who admits that he likes to exaggerate: ‘Let’s call it an exercise in style. But the fact that I exaggerate doesn’t mean what I say is untrue.’
Eventually the main character becomes hopelessly lost in his own fantasies, leaving his readers with the feeling they have been hallucinating while roaming through a metropolis. The destination was irrelevant; it was the journey that mattered. And anyone in danger of losing the thread could cling to the style of their guide, to those dynamic sentences full of depravity and high contemplation that Pfeijffer has produced in such quantities since his award-winning debut novel Rupert: A Confession (2002).