Brief Lives of Idiots

Brief Lives of Idiots

Ermanno Cavazzoni

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Translated, with an afterword, by Jamie Richards / December 2020 / 4.5 x 7, 192 pp. / 978-1-939663-53-5

"What follows is one calendar month. Each day holds the life of a kind of saint, who experiences agony and ecstasy the way traditional saints do. Then our month ends, because everything in this world must end, even our brief idiot lives."

A parody of the Lives of the Saints from the Middle Ages, Ermanno Cavazzoni’s Brief Lives of Idiots offers us a perfect month of portraits of idiots drawn from real life, from overly realist writers to fringe-belief obsessives, punctuated every seventh day with a litany of suicides—failed, foolish, or fatal to others. This roll call extends the ridiculous to melancholic extremes, introducing us to such exemplary fools as the father and husband unable to recognize his own family, the Marxist convinced that Christ was an extraterrestrial, the would-be saint who finds a private martyrdom through the torturous confinement of a pair of ill-fitting leather oxfords, and the man who failed to realize that he had spent two years in a concentration camp. This is a display of a myriad idiocy, blissful and baneful, discovered and achieved by hook or by crook, be it through paranoia, misapplied methodology, religious hallucination, or relentless diarrhea. But Cavazzoni engages in neither finger pointing nor celebration. If Saints can be counted, idiots cannot: idiocy is ultimately the human condition.

Ermanno Cavazzoni is the award-winning author of many fantastic and absurd tales. He is a professor at the University of Bologna and a member of the literary group OpLePo, an Italian spin-off of the OuLiPo.


“We meet Dr. Dialisi, who refused to change the stylish shoes that rubbed and shredded his feet, and Renato Scalabrini, who had the inexplicable habit of throwing stones in the air. If they struck him on the head he assumed an injured expression, as though saddened by the injustices of the universe. Don’t ask me why, but the image of young Renato compulsively hitting himself with rocks seems a fitting conclusion to 2020.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“A neat little collection, especially for dipping into, a few pieces at a time.”
—M. A. Orthofer, The Complete Review

“There is compassion in Cavazzoni, and his idiots have something in them of Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar. But while Calvino’s human telescope sees deep into the essence of the ordinary, Cavazzoni’s characters aim, but stubbornly fail, to penetrate the extraordinary.”
—Adrian Nathan West, Washington Examiner

“A deliberate provocation to idiots and idiot-makers, Brief Lives is expertly translated from the Italian by Jamie Richards, who is clearly no idiot.”
—Martin Billheimer, Counterpunch

“Each ‘week’ of this calendarium ends with a list of suicides, evidently held as the most idiotic of all for giving up their chance at life. Because, ultimately, that’s what Cavazzoni celebrates in his odd, funny, maybe even beautiful book that has to be read to be believed.”
—Bethanne Patrick, Lithub

“Pathos, hilarity, tragedy and blackly comic slapstick abound in this glorious gallery of numpties, translated exquisitely by Jamie Richards.”
—M. J. Nicholls, Exacting Clam

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