Franco Zeffirelli (1923-2019)

We were sad to hear of the recent death of Franco Zeffirelli, one of the best known Italian directors and producers of film and opera of the 20th century. Hugely influential and iconic, he stood at the heart of Italian film for decades.

Born Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli, he was the illegitimate child of a fashion designer and Florentine wool and silk merchant. After the death of his mother when he was six, he was brought up by the English expatriate community in Florence, who took him under their wing – this part of his story was immortalised in his semi-autobiographical film Tea with Mussolini, set in the pre-war Florence of the “scorpioni” (the English community there, represented by the inspirational Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Joan Plowright) and in the Tuscany of the war years as war took hold. He enrolled to study art at the University of Florence, and when war broke out he joined the partisans, later acting as translator to the occupying British forces. After the war he turned towards the theatre, inspired by seeing Laurence Olivier in Henry V, and it was whilst working as a scenic painter that he met Luchino Visconti who was to have a profound influence on him. He worked in London and New York, designing and directing plays, and then turned to film, directing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in The Taming of the Shrew. In 1968 he directed Romeo and Juliet – hugely popular and a massive box-office hit. From Shakespeare he moved on to other themes, directing such films as Brother Sun, Sister Moon, about St Francis of Assisi and St Clare, and the mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. Continue reading

Sebastiano Vassalli (1941-2015)


Sebastiano Vassalli (source)

“Not reading at all is better than reading certain books. I have always been wary of that   marketing advertising books like milk, as in Fellini’s Dolce vita: ‘Read more books, books are good for you!’, and so on. Reading what? You can’t generalise. There is a moment in one’s life, however, when distinctions are of no use. It’s when a kid starts reading. We fall in love with reading before we fall in love with books: and it’s not useful, it’s not appropriate to demand a choice from a ten, eleven-year-old.” Continue reading

Władysław Bartoszewski, the man and his legacy : the May 2015 Slavonic item(s) of the month

Władysław Bartoszewski – Polish resistance member, prisoner, diplomat, and historian – died in late April at the age of 93.  The University Library’s holdings of works by and about him date from 1968 and include a 6-volume set of his works (590:4.c.200.49-54).  Our latest Bartoszewski acquisitions are the focus of the May Slavonic item of the month feature.


The three books discussed in the blog post.

In his long life, Bartoszewski saw first-hand some of both the bleakest and most hopeful parts of modern Poland’s history.  A young man when the Nazis arrived, he fought in the defence of Warsaw against the invading army and later in the 1944 Uprising.  In between, he was imprisoned in Auschwitz and, on his release (organised by the Polish Red Cross), worked in the resistance, both in the main Polish Home Army and also in Żegota, whose work was focused on aiding Jews.  In Communist Poland, he worked as a journalist and historian, but was imprisoned for much of the post-war decade.  His last imprisonment came in 1981, during martial law, for his connections with Solidarność.  Post-Communist Poland lauded him.  In his two terms as foreign minister, he played a vital role in forging strong connections with Israel and Germany. Continue reading

Günter Grass

A month ago today, on April 13th, Günter Grass died aged 87. He was one of the dominant figures of German contemporary literature, who rose to international fame and earned a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. His writing mainly dealt with the German Nazi past and is considered to be part of the genre of “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” (coming to terms with the past). He was socially engaged throughout his life and a firm supporter of left-wing politics, something he had in common with the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, who coincidentally died on the same day as Grass. The University Library has an extensive collection of Grass’s literary works and our holdings can be easily browsed by searching the catalogue for Grass as author, or doing a subject heading search for books about him.


A selection of bookcovers desigend by Grass (

Grass originally wanted to be a painter and enjoyed and tried to incorporate painting into his life as much as possible. He reportedly said that it was something that he had always taken a keen interest in. He illustrated several of his works and usually also the covers of his books, but he also worked on his art as a painter and sculptor on works not connected to his literary output. He published some of his paintings later himself and several exhibitions were held. The UL also has a substantial collection of these works and catalogues that may not come directly to mind when thinking about Grass. Continue reading

Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano (source)

Eduardo Galeano (source)

The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano passed away on 13 April 2015, aged 74. He started his career in journalism, but came to greater prominence in 1971 with what remains his best-known work, Las venas abiertas de América Latina (original: 220.d.97.88; translation: 670:8.c.95.866), a history of Latin America from the time of Columbus onwards, focusing on the economic exploitation and military oppression that had shaped the continent. This book remained popular and respected throughout the decades, and even became an unexpected bestseller in 2009, when the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez publicly gifted a copy to Barack Obama.

Galeano had a long and varied writing career, throughout which he tried to bring to light the usually unwritten history of Latin America and the world – that of the victims, the poor and the downtrodden – as he felt that without acknowledging and understanding this, governments and nations could never truly progress. His outspoken socialist stance unsurprisingly put him at odds with the right-wing dictatorships that dominated the Southern Cone in the 1970s and 1980s. He first fled Uruguay and then Argentina in the mid-1970s, and wrote another of his most famous works, Memoria del fuego (original: 670:8.c.95.547-9; translation: 9743.c.334-336), whilst in exile. Continue reading