I feel as if I just discovered another goddess of the short story genre. Francesca Marciano's nine stories are so beautifully realized, so breathtaking in their scope, that I lost track of time while under their spell.
"After seven years of European life, she found herself smiling at the predicament she'd found herself in. It was a reminder that there were still places in the world where one could vanish, be lost, be found and rescued by strangers," Ms. Marciano writes in one of her stories.
Indeed, each one is, in its own way, a study of reinvention: of suddenly becoming visible or invisible, of uncovering elusive truths in exotic locales, of turning one's back on a tedious past, of recognizing the person one was meant to be.
In the Presence of Men - perhaps my favorite of the collection - a divorced woman named Lara attempts to reinvent herself in a charming and innocent Italian village. There she befriends an older woman, an extraordinary local seamstress. Yet when her brother arrives in town, accompanied by a famous actor, the ragged seams of the unspoiled town begin to reveal itself.
In another, Indian Soiree, an unmoored writer and his dissatisfied wife travel to India, where both begin to question the solidarity and trust of their relationship and who they really are. "The feeling they both had was of a tidal wave that kept gaining speed and had crashed upon them before they could take cover," the author writes,''
And, in the eponymous story, The Other Language, three young children travel from Rome to Greece with their father after the sudden death of their mother. "It impressed the children and seemed to cheer them up as if this time of greatest loss would coincide with the promise of a richer and more exciting lie. As if, by losing their mother, they had been promoted to a higher level of lifestyle." Many years later, the middle child reflects on what she lost...and more importantly, what she gained.
There is not one mediocre story in this entire marvelous collection. Whether Francesca Marciano is writing about a penny-pinching Italian woman who splurges on a Chanel dress that becomes a lifetime talisman or about a hermetic man who lives in a small island in Africa where he is found by a past girlfriend, the insights are extraordinary. ("Maybe he has chosen this place to venture inward rather than expand, since everything here - the people, the buildings, even the geography - lacks beauty and brilliance").
Do I love this book? You bet! For anyone who gets enthused about internal or external journeys or who are prepared to believe that "one always had to be prepared for anything to happen", this is a short story collection that will resonate long after you close the pages.