Lovers of experimental literary fiction will celebrate this newly translated novel by "the most respected name in Italian fiction of the past twenty years." Antonio Tabucchi, winner of numerous European prizes and translated into eighteen languages, stretches the limits of narrative as he traces his characters' searches for meaning, especially through their relationships with other people. Episodes from his own life provide inspiration and narrative context for those timely moments which reveal his characters' emotional crises.
Seventeen different men write letters to the women who have dominated their lives, and as each man reminisces about his life and love, he reveals the circumstances of the inevitable breakup and how the broken relationship has haunted him for years ever after. The eighteenth letter is written by a woman, a grand finale addressed to the men severally, which offers advice and puts their experiences into a wider context.
The speakers live throughout Europe--on a Greek island, along a river in Italy, and in Paris (with a side trip to Brazil), and one speaker has "not made" a journey to Samarkand (Uzbekistan). They include a theatre director, a dying man, an architect, a faculty member, a Jewish harpist who escaped the war, a character actor, a composer, and a widower with two children. Each wrestles with a love story from the past and its continuing effect on his present.
Impressionistic and poetic, this novel is not a narrative in the traditional sense. Abstract ideas and images, sometimes dream-like and sometimes nightmarish, reveal life's suffering. More a series of memoirs or first-person stories than a novel, the book examines our differing concepts of time and our different reactions to the past at various points in our lives. Most of the speakers are involved in creative arts, and the novel also celebrates their creativity and the uniqueness of their individual creations. Sometimes humorous, especially in the episode involving a 1980's interpretation of Hamlet, the novel is also self-conscious and philosophical. Free form prose takes the reader into a world of circular stories and repeating motifs.
European in its literary focus, this novel considers serious questions of identity, and it does not hesitate to flout literary convention to accomplish the emotional effects for which the author obviously strives. Providing a detailed Postscript, in which he explains the events from his own life which inspired the episodes in this book, the author also provides an intimate view of the creation and development of this work of literary fiction. An experimental "novel" for which a star rating is not appropriate. n Mary Whipple