Andrea's Lee's strikingly redolent Lost Hearts in Italy mines the murky waters of betrayal, infidelity and misplaced passion. Her central character is Mira Ward, an attractive African American who has recently married Nick Reiver, a blonde and blue-eyed Old New England banker. College sweethearts, the young couple almost at once, fall terribly in love. Affluent and upwardly mobile, Nick and Mira seem to be blessed with everything.
At the beginning if the novel, it is the early 1980's and the extremely ambitious Nick has just been offered a post in Italy, determined to pursue his career in international finance. His firm treats Mira and she decides to join him in Rome. On the flight, however, she's upgraded to first-class section where she meets Zenin, a billionaire working class Italian industrialist.
The attraction isn't instant, but the misogynistic and grandiloquent Zenin seems intent to seduce this exotic and striking dark-skinned beauty. Somewhat naïve and also quite flattered, Mira gives him her number, not thinking he'll call, but when he eventually does phone, the rest of the world recedes and she simply lets him into her life as though it's nothing more than a flicker of impulse, a flash of idle curiosity.
Mira inexplicably throws herself into the affair, for no good reason, apart from the fact that her thoughts grow dark and jumbled when she thinks of herself alone in Rome when Nick flies off to start work. Mira sinks her roots into a country feeling almost like the heroine of a melodrama, whereas Zenin - with is old-world ways - treats her like a sexual object, intent prop up his unhealthy dependence for physical reinforcement than any emotional security.
The affair continues on until Nick eventually discovers the betrayal, all three of the still to pursue their own selfish agendas. Two decades alter they're all still alive, widely separated, no longer "hagridden by lust and jealousy," grown older and lazier, and less exacting about their pleasures.
Mira immerses herself in the controlled chaos of a new family and work, and recollects the affair with a type of whimsical nostalgia, not so much for love "but for being young" Nick has a beautiful second wife and two girls besides their own daughter Maddie, and has hidden himself amongst the glass and steel corporate wilderness of Canary Wharf or Wall Street. Whilst Zenin has encapsulated himself in his money and prestige, "the vast yet hermetic universe of product wealth and chance."
From city to city, London, Venice, Rome, New York and Hong Kong, all three of these characters are linked by the glorious egotistical certainty of living a betrayal unique in the world. Lee tells her story through shifting perspectives, not just through Mira, Nick and Zenin, but also through various minor players - a sister, a brother, a waiter, even an airline steward - as she steadily builds a defensive wall of memories, a gallery of life in two continents.
Much of the novel involves Mira's moneyed recollections as she looks at the life she has rebuilt in Northern Italy when she left Rome and the ruins of the first marriage, and the love affair. Defined by materialistic needs rather than any meaningful connection to the world, her existence was indeed controlled by glamour, wealth and prestige. Nick realized early on that he could never hope to compete with Zenin and he ends up collapsing the metropolis of certainty when he realizes Zenin is just too powerful a force in Mira's life.
Lost Hearts in Italy is obviously a love story, but it's also a rather scathing indictment on the wealthy and their penchant for instant gratification. In their youths, Zenin, Nick and Mira had one thing in common besides a susceptibility to passion - a rather stubborn, bourgeois attachment to life and its consolations. In contrast, their middle age has somewhat tempered them, everything is now cushioned with a relativity, going beyond forgiveness and bitterness. Mike Leonard October 06.