Inge Feltrinelli, memories of her son Carlo: she wanted to change the world with books

Photojournalist by vocation, publisher with a mission. Which? 'She had an amazing ability to bring people together.' She received a single 'no'. From Einstein

  carlo-inge-feltrinelli-launch Carlo Feltrinelli, 61 years old and his mother Inge who died in 2018

Carlo Feltrinelli welcomes us on the top floor of the glass pyramid that houses the Foundation that bears his family name. What can be seen from here, the marvel that can be seen from here, is – quite simply – Milan. Feltrinelli has made the history, culture and civil battles of all of Italy. But you wouldn't understand what Feltrinelli is, what this family was and what it is, if you didn't start from here: from Milan.

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Today's Books – guard

GERMAN – Carlo Feltrinelli, who is president of the publishing house, is a kind man, with traits of uncommon and precious humility. He receives us because, for the first time, he wants to talk about a person who deserves to occupy a prominent place in this story that is so important for our country: Inge Schoenthal, born in Essen in Germany on November 24, 1930, married to Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in 1960, died in Milan on 20 September 2018. Photojournalist, editor, animator of cultural meetings all over the world. Mother of her.

President, five years after her disappearance, you have dedicated an award to her. «We liked to remember her with an award that would enhance those who bet on the value of words, investigations, reports. Inge did all of this in his life.'

He started out as a photojournalist. «Yes, and it is a piece of its history that is not well known, but in my opinion extraordinarily fascinating. She was, how to say… irreverent, and I use that term in a positive sense, of course: irreverent in trying and finding stories to tell. She was curious. She wanted to discover things and people. Well, it seems to me that this award responds very well to her story. And then…'.

And then? «And then I think Inge would have suffered a lot this time. The pandemic, then the war ».

Why? “Because he would have relived his story. His father was Jewish, in Hitler's Germany. He left for the United States in 1938 when Inge was eight. Her mother was not Jewish but she had to divorce in order to totally 'sever' the bond. Only by divorcing could she enroll Inge in school. But in any case it was never quiet, in the Third Reich».

Did your mother go to school under the Nazis? 'Yes. His hand has preserved an indelible memory of it ».

Her hand? «Inge was left-handed and they forced her to write with her right hand. Which she did very badly. She never resumed writing clearly. Do you think that all her life she kept a diary. And when I happen to read it again, I can decipher it with great difficulty».

When did your life as a photojournalist begin? 'At twenty. He took his bicycle and went to Hamburg with a camera.'

Why Hamburg in particular? «Because it was the capital of German publishing. And she already had a passion for publishing. There were the first women's magazines».

Then New York. «He arrived there in 1951, by ship, penniless. One day he crossed paths with Greta Garbo stopped at a traffic light. He photographed her in profile. It was her first hundred dollars she earned.'

And the beginning of a series of extraordinary portraits, right? «His scoop was the meeting with Hemingway. She left for Havana on an adventure, hoping to meet him. He succeeded after several attempts. She lived with him and his wife for two weeks, made a series of unique photos. The most famous is the one on the boat with a swordfish».

In that photo, his mother is radiant, he is a little melancholy. «It is a photograph that went around the world. She appeared as a good-looking, sassy, ​​good girl. You made a name for yourself among German reporters. You photographed Churchill, Picasso, Anna Magnani, Gary Cooper… ».

Her mother was in great demand for portraits. Did anyone ever say no to her? “Yes, Einstein. He said no, with a German expression that I can't repeat well, but that we can translate as 'flash monkey'. It was Inge's only failure. Then began the season of great reports all over the world. In Ghana, in Greece… It's a phase of his life that is unknown. We are working on the hypothesis of a biography of him ».

Then there is Inge Feltrinelli publisher. «Inge editor is known for its extraordinary ability to bring people together. But beyond that public and worldly aspect, she was very comfortable on her own. She and the books. Her reading skills were also impressive. She ate reading. She loved biographies. You followed the international press voraciously.'

In the award that you have established in her name, there is great attention for women writers and women's stories. Her mother was a gigantic figure in a still very masculine world like that of publishing. «I could tell you that Inge was a protofeminist, but she would never have accepted this definition because she didn't like labels. But you certainly have had many friendships with great women. I am thinking of Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing, Herta Muller, three Nobel prize winners for literature. Herta Muller is on the award jury. And then Isabel Allende, Marguerite Duras».

Inge Schoental and Giangiacomo Feltrinelli met in 1958 and got married in 1960. In 1961 she was born. «Inge immediately participates in the life of the publishing house and internationalizes it even more. He had many connections, especially in German publishing. At the turn of the 60s and 70s he closed ranks in a very difficult period for us. Then he keeps the bar straight after my father died. And he relaunches Feltrinelli ».

Your libraries? «At the beginning of the 70s there were six. Today there are 120. Inge opened a great season for bookshops. He knew how to bring together great men and women writers from all over the world with local communities. The opening of a Feltrinelli bookstore became a celebration for the whole city».

You remind us of one of these unforgettable openings. «Well, I would say that of the Central Station in Milan, in 2010, with Daniel Barenboim playing the piano on the steps, and the commuters passing by him. He had only come to be friends with Inge. And then that of Palermo in the 1980s, at the time of the maxi mafia trials. Mayor Leoluca Orlando told Inge: Palermo needs many policemen, but also many books».

What were books to her mother? «Inge said that publishing a book is trying to make a person's life better».

President, throughout the interview you spoke about Inge: the photojournalist, the publisher. But what do you remember of Inge, mamma? “We had a very close relationship. I can't say it was easy. Let's say I gained experience with two demanding parents. But Inge was a very loving mother. Very. And with my children she was an unpredictable grandmother, full of initiatives, of curiosities to pass on. The leitmotif of her life was: sharing passions ».