Set against the vivid backdrop of 1960s Naples, The House on Via Gemito is the story of a would-be great artist whose talent is thwarted by the demands of family life

Whether you’re new to The House on Via Gemito or have read it and would like to explore it more deeply, here is our comprehensive guide, featuring insights from critics, our judges and the book’s author and translator, as well as discussion points and suggestions for further reading. 

Written by Emily Facoory

Publication date and time: Published


The modest apartment in Via Gemito smells of paint and white spirit. The living room furniture is pushed up against the wall to create a make-shift studio, and drying canvases must be moved off the beds each night. Federí, the father, a railway clerk, is convinced he possesses great artistic talent. If he didn’t have a family to feed, he’d be a world-famous painter. Ambitious and frustrated, genuinely talented but full of arrogance and resentment, his life is marked by bitter disappointment. His long-suffering wife and their four sons bear the brunt. It’s his first-born who, years later, will sift the lies from the truth to tell the story of a man he spent his whole life trying not to resemble.

The main characters


Federí works as a railway worker but aims to become a famous painter, believing that his family have hindered his quest for acclaim. He’s a narcissist who’s aggressive and mean and is physically abusive to his wife, Rusine. He shows no affection towards his four children and his violent and selfish demeanor make him, on the surface at least, an unlikeable character. 


Mimí is the narrator of the story who works as a writer; he is reflecting on his father’s life, wanting to understand more about him in order to write a biography. He struggles to discern which of his father’s stories are based on fact and which are lies.


Rusine is Federí’s wife and Mimí’s mother; she is popular and beautiful and attracts the attention of other men, which results in Federí’s jealous and angry behaviour.

About the author

Domenico Starnone is an Italian writer, screenwriter and journalist. He is the author of 13 works of fiction, including First ExecutionTies, a New York Times Editors Pick and Notable Book of the Year, and a Sunday Times and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, Trick, a Finalist for the 2018 National Book Award and the 2019 PEN Translation Prize, and Trust. The House on Via Gemito won Italy’s most prestigious literary prize, the Strega more than 20 years before the English language edition was published. Domenico Starnone was born in Naples and lives in Rome.

Portrait of author Domenico Starnone

About the translator

Oonagh Stransky has been a translator of Italian literature for over 20 years. Some of the writers whose work she has brought into English include Pier Paolo Pasolini, Carlo Lucarelli, Giuseppe Pontiggia, and Roberto Saviano. Stransky started studying Italian at Middlebury Language Schools in 1986, got her BA in Comparative Literature from Mills College and UC Berkeley in 1989, and her MA in Italian from Columbia University in 2002. She is the translator of the English edition of The House on Via Gemito by Domenico Starnone, longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2024. She currently lives in Italy.

Portrait of translator Oonagh Stransky

What the critics said

Tim Parks, Washington Post:

‘It is 450 pages of vivid, fluid, richly detailed drama, tormented and hilarious. Originally published in 2000, two years after his father’s death and more than a decade before the other translated novels, it shows us the crucible in which the author’s later style was formed: Coolness and control are defense mechanisms learned in the long struggle with his father … The novel gains with length. As drama and detail accumulate, we share the boy’s difficulty in finding a steady position vis-à-vis his father … Starnone’s prose, ably and fluently translated by Oonagh Stransky, is compelling without being showy. He nails down his father in what could seem a tremendous act of revenge but is also a moving celebration of the man’s achievement and a profound consideration of artistic vocation.’


‘Expansive and winding … Every character, including Federí, is a full-fledged human being filled with desire, regret, resentment, bitterness and hope. At the same time, the Neapolitan setting comes equally alive. Federí married his wife, Rusinè, in the midst of the Second World War, and the confused aftermath of that war, as Italy struggled to regain standing, is beautifully described. Starnone, it seems, can do no wrong. A complexly structured masterpiece that doubles back on itself in order to move forward.’

Lily Meyer, NPR

‘His warring desires to destroy his father and banish his father’s violence from his own psyche are, by far, the most interesting parts of the book … Sadly, Starnone gives young Mimí much less time on the page than he does Federí … He has to retell his father’s lies in detail, investigating each one, in order to take their power away; he has to do the same with his memories of Federí abusing him and his long-suffering mother Rusinè. Psychologically, the process makes absolute sense, and is moving to behold. But in a more streamlined novel, Mimí’s liberation might move the reader more.’

Christopher Sorrentino, The New York Times

‘For its first appearance in English, The House on Via Gemito (which won Italy’s prestigious Strega Prize in 2001) has been well served by the translator Oonagh Stransky, whose rendering is as vivid as it is lucid, managing to place elegantly descriptive passages side by side on the page with elaborately pungent Neapolitan insults, reproducing many of the latter in dialect, allowing the long compound words to convey their hostility and contempt on their own.’

John Domini, Brooklyn Rail

‘He never fails to fish out just the right detail to ensure that his latest somersault sticks the landing … This balance of ferocious intensity and cool observation gives us the plot, insofar as there is one.’

What the International Booker Prize judges said

The House on Via Gemito is a marvellous novel of Naples and its environs during and after the Second World War. The prism for this exploration is the relationship between the narrator and his railway worker / artist father – an impossible man, filled with cowardice and boastfulness. His son’s attempt to understand and forgive him is compelling; we are held through the minutiae of each argument and explosion, each hope and almost-success.’

Group photo of the International Booker Prize 2024 Judges; Romesh Gunesekera, Natalie Diaz, William Kentridge, Eleanor Wachtel and Aaron Robertson.

Questions and discussion points

It has been rumoured that acclaimed Booker Prize nominated Italian author, Elena Ferrante – whose true identity has long been a mystery – is in fact either Domenico Starnone or his wife Anita Raja. An Italian literary critic claimed that there were significant similarities between Starnone’s The House on Via Gemito and Ferrante’s debut novel Troubling Love, as well as other similarities throughout their respective works. If you’ve read books by both authors, what certain similarities have you found that could prove this theory to be true?

Considering that it’s been over 20 years since its original publication in Italy and that Domenico Starnone is a well established author with previous English translations of his work. Why do you think it has taken this long for The House on Via Gemito to appear in English?

A work with elements of autofiction (one of several on the International Booker Prize 2024 longlist), The House on Via Gemito is based on the life of Domenico’s own father and the events he experienced. Starnone even uses his father’s name and an image of his father’s artwork on the front cover of the book. Some reviewers have claimed that it was written as an act of revenge or as a cathartic process, published a few years after his father’s death. While it’s unclear how much of the story is directly about his father, how does this interpretation of the book – that Starnone wrote the novel out of anger or as a way to process some of the traumatic experiences he experienced as a young child – affect your reading of it?

There are numerous swear words in the Neapolitan dialect that are included in the novel in which the translator, Oonagh Stransky said provided some of the biggest linguistic challenges that she faced during the translation process. She said that she opted to leave the longer phrases – such as ocazzochecacàto, stupplecèss and mannaggiacchitemuòrt – in Italian for three reasons. ‘Translating them literally would strip them of their musicality and meaning; translating them figuratively would seem random; and finally, since they appear in dialect in what is otherwise a standard Italian text, causing even the Italian reader to slow down and reflect on their meaning, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do the same to the reader of the English language version – in moderation.’ When reading these words, are you inclined to attempt to translate them yourself to understand their meaning or do you assume what they mean by the context in which they are used?

In a conversation with his father, where Federí says, ‘Everything passes, kid. So let’s think about ourselves. At the very least, let’s try and keep our name alive.’ Domenico’s response, which he keeps to himself is, ‘Papà, a name is nothing more than the sound of someone clearing their throat, a smear of ink.’ Federí is determined to establish his legacy, while his son isn’t as sentimental. Which viewpoint do you relate to the most and why? 

If you enjoyed this book, why not try

Ties by Domenico Starnone

Trust by Domenico Starnone

Trick by Domenico Starnone

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman