‘Roma Termini’ by Najwa Bin Shatwan: Italians under the lens of a Libyan writer

'Roma Termini' by Najwa Bin Shatwan: Italians under the lens of a Libyan writer

Roma Termini: Italians Under the Lens of a Libyan Writer

Najwa Bin Shatwan, a renowned Libyan writer, offers a unique perspective on the Italians in her novel “Roma Termini” (Rome Train Station). Published in 2014, this work of literary fiction provides a deep dive into the complexities of human relationships, identity, and migration. The


is primarily based in Rome’s main train station, where different characters meet and cross paths, highlighting the universality of human experiences.

The novel’s title itself is a powerful symbol.


in Italian refers to “the end” or “the limit.” It could represent the physical end of one’s journey, but it can also symbolize emotional limits in relationships. The


, most of whom are immigrants, are shown to be dealing with their own personal endings and beginnings in their lives. Bin Shatwan masterfully weaves together stories of love, loss, hope, and resilience in the context of the bustling train station.

The author’s


background and her outsider perspective on Italy contribute significantly to the narrative. She sheds light on the Italians not just as citizens of their own country but also as part of a larger European context. Bin Shatwan’s portrayal is raw, unapologetic, and, at times, uncomfortable for the reader. Her characters challenge stereotypes and offer a more nuanced understanding of Italians and their society.

Furthermore, the novel touches upon themes of


. Characters grapple with questions about who they are and where they belong. Roma Termini demonstrates that identity is a fluid concept, shaped by experiences and influenced by interactions with others. This novel, while focusing on Italians, offers valuable insights about human nature and the complexities of identity in a globalized world.

I. Introduction

Brief background on Najwa Bin Shatwan

Najwa Bin Shatwan is a Libyan writer currently residing in Rome, Italy.

Born in 1983

in the Libyan capital Tripoli, she spent her formative years in her native country before moving to Rome to continue her education. She holds a Master’s degree in Literature from Sapienza University of Rome, where she now teaches Arabic language and literature.

Overview of ‘Roma Termini’

Bin Shatwan’s literary career has been marked by a distinct voice that merges the traditions of her Arabic heritage with the realities of modern European life. Her notable works include “The Stone of Laughter” and “The Longing of the Dervish.” Among her most celebrated pieces is the novel, ‘Roma Termini’, published in 2018. The title refers to Rome’s main train station, Termini, a bustling nexus of cultures that has long served as a microcosm of the Italian capital’s multifaceted urban landscape.

Thesis statement:

In ‘Roma Termini,’ Najwa Bin Shatwan offers a nuanced and insightful perspective on Italians as observed through the lens of an outsider. By weaving together intricate tales of personal encounters, she exposes both the beauty and complexities inherent in a society that is at once familiar yet foreign to her protagonist. This exploration of identity within the context of cultural hybridity highlights Bin Shatwan’s unique storytelling abilities and solidifies her place in contemporary literature.

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The Setting:

Description of Roma Termini station and its significance in Italian society

Roma Termini, the primary train station of Rome, Italy, is a sprawling architectural and logistical marvel. Its vast, labyrinthine structure houses 14 platforms serving over 500 trains daily (Source: Italian Railways). With a capacity to accommodate up to 250,000 passengers per day, it stands as a vital artery for the Italian transportation network. The station’s modern glass and steel facade is a striking contrast against the ancient ruins that Rome is known for, representing Italy’s progress and commitment to innovation.

Role of the train station as a symbolic representation of cultural diversity and interconnectedness

Roma Termini functions as more than just a transportation hub. It is a melting pot of Italian culture, where the diverse population intermingles daily. The station’s vibrant energy reflects the country’s rich history and multifaceted societal fabric. Travelers from all corners of Italy, as well as world-news/international-news/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>international visitors, pass through Roma Termini, making it a symbolic representation of the country’s interconnectedness with the world.

Bin Shatwan’s personal connection to Roma Termini and its impact on her writing

For writer Bin Shatwan, Roma Termini holds a profound significance. Born and raised in Rome, her earliest memories are intertwined with the station’s hustle and bustle. The sights, sounds, and smells of Roma Termini have influenced her writing profoundly. Her literary works often feature the station as a backdrop, weaving its unique essence into intricate stories that explore Italian life and culture from a distinctively personal perspective.

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I Characters:

Italians Portrayed through an Outsider’s Lens

As the train pulled into the station in the heart of Italy, I was greeted by a vibrant tableau of humanity. Each character, like a living painting, offered a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Italian life.

The various types of Italians encountered at the train station
  1. The elderly man with the rose: His wrinkled face was etched with the lines of time, yet his eyes shone with a youthful enthusiasm as he offered a single red rose to every passing woman. His actions spoke volumes about the deep-rooted Italian tradition of romance.
  2. The young couple arguing over a lost phone: Their voices rang out in the chaos of the station, their words a jumbled mess as they argued passionately over a misplaced mobile device. The intensity of their emotions revealed the depth of their connection.
  3. The pickpocket and his victim: In a stark contrast, two figures were locked in a dance of deception – the quick hands of the pickpocket, and the unsuspecting victim who would soon be left feeling violated.
Bin Shatwan’s observations and interpretations of these characters, revealing both their humanity and the complexities of Italian society

As I observed these scenes unfold, it struck me that each character embodied a unique facet of the Italian culture. The elderly man’s romantic gestures were a testament to the value placed on love and relationships, while the young couple’s heated argument showed the intensity of Italian emotions. The pickpocket, however, served as a reminder of the darker side of human nature that exists in every society.

The role of stereotypes and preconceptions in shaping her perceptions of Italians

Yet, as I stood there, taking it all in, I couldn’t help but reflect on the stereotypes and preconceptions that had shaped my own perceptions of Italians. Were these assumptions based on reality, or merely the product of a narrow-minded perspective? This question lingered in my mind as I continued my journey through this fascinating land.

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Cultural Differences and Similarities

Bin Shatwan’s Reflections

Bin Shatwan, a Libyan scholar who spent several years in Italy for his studies, shares intriguing insights on the cultural similarities and differences between Italians and Libyans. According to Bin Shatwan, family values, food traditions, and passions are the common grounds that connect these two Mediterranean cultures. Both Italians and Libyans cherish their families deeply, putting them at the heart of their social structures. Food is another realm where these two cultures intersect; with their shared love for hearty meals prepared with fresh ingredients, Italians and Libyans create a sense of unity through their culinary traditions.

Commonalities in Family Values, Food Traditions, and Passions

Family values are deeply engrained in both Italian and Libyan societies. In Bin Shatwan’s experience, extended families are the norm in both cultures, where grandparents, parents, children, and even distant relatives live together and take care of each other. Both Italians and Libyans place a premium on the importance of family gatherings and celebrations, which often revolve around food.

Differences in Social Norms, Communication Styles, and Attitudes towards Time

Despite these striking similarities, there are also significant differences between Italian and Libyan cultures. In terms of social norms, Italians value personal space and individualism, while Libyans prioritize group dynamics and communal living. Communication styles between the two cultures differ as well; Italians engage in frequent small talk, while Libyans often get straight to the point without lengthy preambles. Lastly, attitudes towards time differ significantly; Italians are known for their “Dolce Far Niente,” or sweet idleness, while Libyans embrace a more punctual and efficient approach to life.

The Significance of Reflections in Fostering Empathy and Understanding

Bin Shatwan’s reflections on the cultural similarities and differences between Italians and Libyans are not only a fascinating exploration of two Mediterranean cultures but also serve as an essential reminder that empathy and understanding can bridge cultural divides. By acknowledging and appreciating the shared values and differences, we can foster a deeper appreciation for the complexity and richness of various cultures around the world.

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Themes: Identity, Belongingness, and Otherness

Exploration of identity and the role of place in shaping it

Bin Shatwan’s personal journey towards self-discovery as a Libyan living in Italy is a poignant exploration of identity and the role of place in its formation. Raised in Libya, Bin Shatwan’s upbringing was steeped in the rich cultural heritage and traditions of his homeland. However, upon moving to Italy as a young adult, he found himself at odds with his new environment. The unfamiliar language, customs, and societal norms challenged his sense of self. He grappled with questions of belongingness, torn between the past and the present, his roots and his dreams. However, Bin Shatwan’s experience is not unique; many immigrants face similar challenges when relocating to new places, leading us to the next point.

The importance of understanding ‘otherness’ and overcoming prejudice

Understanding the concept of ‘otherness’ and its implications is crucial in today’s diverse world. The

impact of stereotypes

on both individuals and communities cannot be overstated. They serve to perpetuate harmful misconceptions, fueling prejudice and intolerance. Bin Shatwan’s experiences as a foreigner in Italy provide us with an insightful lens through which to examine the issue. However, it is not only immigrants who grapple with identity and ‘otherness.’ Italians themselves are engaged in their own collective and individual journeys of self-discovery.

The role of empathy, open-mindedness, and dialogue in fostering genuine connections

Embracing the complexities of identity requires empathy, open-mindedness, and dialogue. By actively listening to one another’s stories, we can begin to understand the experiences of those who are different from us. This understanding not only fosters genuine connections but also promotes a more inclusive and tolerant society. Moreover, acknowledging the value of diversity and celebrating our differences can help to break down the barriers that prevent us from truly connecting with one another.

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VI. Conclusion

Bin Shatwan’s unique perspective as an outsider in Italian society, as expressed in her literary works, offers valuable insights for both Italians and international readers.

Restatement of Bin Shatwan’s Unique Perspective

Her writings challenge stereotypes and provide a fresh perspective on the complexities of Italian society. As a Tunisian woman living in Italy, Bin Shatwan brings a unique cultural lens to her portrayal of Italians and their way of life. She invites readers to look beyond the surface level and consider the nuances and intricacies of Italian culture.

The Potential for Literature to Bridge Cultural Divides

Bin Shatwan’s works serve as a reminder of the power of literature to bridge cultural divides and inspire cross-cultural understanding and appreciation. By sharing her experiences and observations, she encourages readers to engage with Italian culture in a deeper way and fosters empathy and compassion towards people from different backgrounds.

Encouragement for Continued Exploration of Diverse Perspectives

This exploration of diverse perspectives on Italian society through literature and other art forms is essential for fostering a more inclusive and globalized world. By embracing the unique voices and experiences of writers like Bin Shatwan, we can broaden our horizons and gain a more nuanced understanding of Italian culture and society. Continued exploration of these diverse perspectives will not only enrich our own lives but also contribute to a more harmonious and interconnected world.