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This Italian author's third novel--though first to be published in the US--finds two rich young European lovers in thrall to a vanished world of fascist chic. Alberto Claudio, a 29-year-old Italian Jewish writer, has been living in London with his mistress Cinderella, an older Englishwoman. As the novel opens, she disappears to Paris while Alberto high-tails it to Turin to attend his dying mother and inherit oodles of lira. There he meets Thusis, a passionate young ballerina, and the two fall into bed--and love. Their erotic drama is soon overshadowed by another affair that occurred some 40 years before in the same city: that between Alberto's bisexual uncle Tullio and a femme fatale called Celeste (later identified as Thusis' aunt). The young lovers learn of this affair from Tullio's diary: excerpts how Tullio's loyalty to Fascism withstood its anti-Semitic manifestations, and how his fascination with Celeste (herself the mistress of a fascist official) eclipsed his concern for his family; wife and children were killed by the Gestapo in 1943, but whether Tullio was killed with them, and whether Celeste betrayed them, are unsolved mysteries. Alberto, learning that Celeste is still alive in New York, confronts her there, but the temperamental and hostile woman sends him away empty-handed, so he pursues his uncle through fiction. Entering Tullio's persona, he continues his diary entries, envisioning Tullio reveling in a homosexual affair in German-occupied Turin, then escaping and reuniting with Celeste in Paris in 1947, only to find there can be no permanent liaison for these ""blue angels, creatures full of perversity."" Elkann's look at the sexual games of his only half-formed lovers becomes an inconclusive sifting of family secrets; why his lovers would be spellbound by two such old hams as Tullio and Celeste is the big puzzlement of this listless, evasive work.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1986
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown