Laura Pugno — “Sirene” — translated from the Italian by Danielle Pieratti

Sirene (Sirens) is set amidst a pandemic of skin cancer brought on by global warming that has forced the planet’s remaining inhabitants to build underwater communities to survive. The mermaids of the book’s title, a species discovered several decades prior to the book’s opening, are now exploited systematically for both meat and sex. In the book’s early chapters, the main character, Samuel—an overseer in an illegal mermaid breeding facility—enters a mating tank and impregnates an albino mermaid. The actions he takes as the story unfolds constitute desperate, often unforgivable attempts to wrest human survival at the earth’s expense.


Novelist, poet, essayist, and playwright Laura Pugno was born in Rome in 1970. Her work has won numerous awards, including the Campiello Selezione Letterati Prize, the Frignano Award, the Dedalus Prize, the Mare di Libri Award, and the Scrivere Cinema Award for screenplay. From 2015 to 2020 she directed the Italian Institute of Culture in Madrid.

Translator and poet Danielle Pieratti is the author of the poetry collections Approximate Body (Carnegie Mellon 2023) and Fugitives (Lost Horse Press 2016), winner of the Idaho Prize and the Connecticut Book Award for poetry. Transparencies, her translated volume of works by Italian poet Maria Borio, was released by World Poetry Books in 2022.