A coming of age story that is a classic of gay literature, now in English for the first time
An NYRB Classics Original
Ernesto is a classic of gay literature, a tender and complex tale of sexual awakening by one of Italy’s most admired poets. Ernesto is a sixteen-year-old boy from an educated family who lives with his mother in Trieste. His mother is eager for him to get ahead and has asked a local businessman to give him some workplace experience in his warehouse. One day a workingman makes advances to Ernesto, who responds with willing curiosity. A month of trysts ensues before the boy begins to tire of the relationship, finally escaping it altogether by engineering his own dismissal. And yet his experience has changed him, and as Umberto Saba’s unfinished, autobiographical story breaks off, Ernesto has struck up a new, oddly romantic attachment to a boy his own age.
The distinguished Italian poet, too little known in America, never allowed this autobiographical novella of first love to be published in his lifetime. Ernesto is not yet 16 at the turn of the century when he is approached by an unlettered day laborer who praises his beauty. For a month, the two have a rapturous liaison. But given the difference in their stations, the affair can't last, and Ernesto, unwilling to offend, quits his jobthe last job, he confides to his reader, he is ever to hold. We see him at the close with a new friend, Ilio, who, like himself, plays the violin and who, the reader is given to understand, will make music for Ernesto throughout his life. This is a lyrical memoir, filled with the enchantment of Trieste as it opens itself to the wide eyes of a boy on a voyage of discovery.