Dino Buzzati’s works, often taking a surrealistic and metaphysical turn, can be compared to the fantasies of Franz Kafka; in fact, he has frequently been referred to by literary critics as “the Italian Kafka.” His closest affinity, however, is with the Romantic tradition of E. T. A. Hoffmann and Edgar Allan Poe. Through the themes and style of his short stories and novels—philosophical and symbolic tales of life’s relentless passing, full of metaphysical allegories and strange events—his work can be related to that of other Italian authors such as Tommaso Landolfi and Italo Calvino; the extremism and pessimism of his narratives, however, are uniquely his own. Buzzati’s characters, overwhelmed by cosmic fear, find themselves in a state of isolation and perpetual waiting. Buzzati’s pessimism, however, is somewhat tempered by a vague Christian element, the hope of ultimate redemption from evil through the exercise of free will. Since death is viewed as the only possible conclusion to life, humans’ ability to die with dignity constitutes the greatest heroic deed.
Some critics saw Buzzati’s existentialism as a snobbish and egotistic attitude. Indeed, Buzzati’s works are not easily appreciated by the unprepared reader, who will remain perplexed before the strange, often hidden and allegoric meaning of his prose. At the same time, however, the stories are captivating. He manages to maintain a sense of continuous suspense, capturing the reader’s attention yet leaving him perplexed.
Translated into several languages, Buzzati’s works became extremely popular in France, where a Buzzati society, Association Internationale des Amis de Dino Buzzati, was established in 1976. His masterpiece The Tartar Steppe influenced Julien Gracq’s novel Le Rivage des Syrtes (1951; the shore of the Syrtes) and resulted in a French-Italian coproduction of a film directed by Valerio Zurlini in 1976. The Tartar Steppe won the Italian Academy Award.
Buzzati received the Gargano Prize in 1951 for In quel preciso momento, the Naples Prize in 1957 for Il crollo della Baliverna, the Strega Prize in 1958 for Sessanta racconti, and the All’Amalia Prize in 1970 for his narrative works in general. He is considered to be one of the most important writers of modern Italy.