The heroine of A Girl Returned is suddenly thrust into a new family, which turns out to be the biological family from which she had been adopted, but she did not even know she was adopted. From one day to the next, she move from a comfortable life to a life scrabble existence, sharing a bed with a younger sister since there is literally no place for her, and scrounging for information about her adoptive mother, who seems to have disappeared entirely, and the reasons why her biological parents allowed her (entirely informal) adoption. The mood of the book reminded me strongly of the Ellena Ferrante series (perhaps because it has the same translator), but I liked it much more in that it focused on the emotions of the two girls (the adopted one and her sister) more than the events of their life.
Tag Archives: Italy
Do we need yet another family saga of Italian immigrants to the US? With The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, the answer is, surprisingly, yes! The heroine, Stella Fortuna, journeys from dirt-poor in Calabria to considerably less poor in the factories of Connecticut, but always in strong conflict with her brutal father, and various other brutal men around her. It’s a wonderful story of a woman who makes the best of what life gave her.
The central character In the Garden of the Fugitives is a man who uses his fortune to buy women, under the guise of scholarships and fellowships to pursue their creative endeavors. Through correspondence, years later, with one of his almost-caught victim and beneficiary we hear about his story, his wife’s, and that of the beneficiary. There are many interesting tidbits in the book, including about archeological practices in Pompeii and white guilt in South Africa, but I found the story plodding and curiously cliche-bound, even if, or perhaps because of its globe-trotting, travelogue feel.
Fancy a trip to Venice? The Temptation of Forgiveness gives the reader a reasonably satisfying plot with lots of local color — so much that the book is more a travelogue than a mystery. It’s the 27th installment in the series, so past readers must have enjoyed the trips very much! Beyond the Venetian stories, the scenario is quite basic, but with complex main characters who generously share their musings about their private concerns.
In the 44 Scotland Street series, The Importance of Being Seven is titled for Bertie, who is indeed about to turn seven and still trying to escape the domination of his controlling mother (he does manage to bring his baby brother to school, unassisted, in this episode!). But it also stars his old teacher, now married, whose first pregnancy ultrasound brings many blessings, and a remarkable holiday in Tuscany by a group of friends, who bears a suspicious but entirely charming resemblance to My Italian Bulldozer.
The first author of Tears of Salt: A Doctor’s Story is a physician on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, where many migrants from Africa arrive, some healthy and others almost or completely dead, as they try to reach Europe. He gets to treat the sick and autopsy the dead, and often sees the children, relatives, and friends of the people he so recently pronounced dead. It’s not an easy life, and it’s not an easy story. The solution to the problem cannot be as simple as what he seems to suggest (open the border) and at the same time the personal stories are heart-wrenching.
Alexander McCall Smith must have given himself a nice trip to a lovely Tuscan trip to prepare to write My Italian Bulldozer. Good for him (and considering how fast he writes, he may written the whole thing from a lovely pensione in Montalcino, which he calls Fiore in the book), and good for us, since the story is delightful, starring a depressed Scottish writer and the unexpected bulldozer with which he ends up driving from the airport to said pensione. He will find an ambitious winemaker, trouble with his ex-girlfriend, and unexplained uses for the bulldozer. It’s fun and unpretentious, unlike other Tuscan travelogues.
The Story of a New Name follows My Brilliant Friend and takes the two friends through high school and college, for the writer, and for her friend through a fraught marriage, motherhood, separation, and back to a tough working life. I found the plot to be less trite than the one in the first book, and with more unexpected twists, especially as the newlyweds fight, cheat, storm out, plot against each other, and generally despise everything the other does. Still, despite the period details, some of the petty fights and rivalries get tedious.
My Brilliant Friend is the first book in a series I was enticed to read by a very favorable review of the last book in the series, and it was certainly good enough for me to proceed to book #2, but I could not quite discern why a reviewer would swoon so based on this one… Certainly the story of the mysteriously self-possessed best friend of the narrator (herself rather awkward, if academically gifted), replete with interesting secondary characters and Southern Italian ambiance, is cleverly told in recursive flashbacks, but the plot did not go beyond a pretty standard coming-of-age tale. We shall see how she fares with her rich husband in the next installment…
The Double Life of Liliane is billed as a novel, although it may be more of a biography, and despite the heroine’s many trips between Europe and the US, between an estranged father and a self-involved mother, I found it all quite dull, often reading like a (very skillful) weaving together of historical research, classic novels in multiple languages, and current events, with not much of a plot beyond fantastic details (was her father really saved by Josephine Baker during WWII?) that do not build to any kind of an apex.