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This report is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

Italo Svevo at the British Admiralty Umberto Saba
Visiting my old antiquarian book store in Trieste today, I was once again struck by how much time and how many words it takes to close or not close, even the smallest deal. When I arrived, the store's purchase of the Children's Encyclopedia was under discussion and the negotiations dragged on for at least another half hour to no avail. I remembered that in happier days (that is when it was I who was buying and selling), a 'yes' or 'no' were given more quickly.

I remembered too, that about twenty years ago in the same place and on a similar occasion (endless negotiations between my stubborn assistant, Carletto and an even more stubborn client), Italo Svevo told me, perhaps because of his love of contrasts, how things had gone with him in London when he closed the biggest deal of his life. A deal I think, involving millions.

Italo Svevo, (known in business as Ettore Schmitz), was a member of a Trieste firm that secretly manufactured and held exclusive rights for the sale of a mysterious product designed to protect the submerged parts of ships from the corrosive action of salt. The novelist, who by luck became famous just about the time he turned sixty, considered himself, (and perhaps he was) a great business man. I don't know if it was for that reason or because he knew English so well, but his firm gave him the responsibility of concluding negotiations already begun with the British ...


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