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by Antonio Tabucchi, translated by Alastair McEwan

Pub Date: May 29th, 2006
ISBN: 0-8112-1546-6
Publisher: New Directions

The impermanence and the frustrations of romantic love are evoked with sly wit and operatic brio in the versatile Italian author’s newly translated 2001 confection.

It’s an epistolary novel, whose major contents are 17 titled letters addressed to an unnamed woman (presumably the same one, possibly a generic ideal beloved), each expressing some variation of the plaintive declaration made by writer #17: “I’m waiting for you, even though we don’t wait for those who cannot return, because . . . we would have to be who we were before, and that is impossible.” Thus things that didn’t happen (a trip not made to Samarkand in “Books Never Written, Journeys Never Made”; an idyllic island vacation, for which she never showed up, in “A Ticket in the Middle of the Sea”) are as vivid and wrenching as things that seemingly did (a former medical student’s memories of his classmate, now a prominent hematologist, in “The Circulation of the Blood”; a theater impresario’s wistful recall of the perfect Norma featured in his production of Bellini’s beloved opera, in “Casta Diva”). The stories are set all over Europe, North Africa and beyond, as disappointed or guilty loves lament the geographical and temperamental distances that separate them from this protean, mischievously elusive Eternal Feminine figure. The best of the stories skillfully blend literary or artistic influences with painstakingly delineated emotions: notably, a summer spent in Provence without the lover whose absence is mocked by the lyrical idealism of the Provencal poets (“Forbidden Games”); and a muted confession from a musician who, having underestimated his lover’s commitment to humanitarian service, abandoned her for another life in Salonika (“What’s the Use of a Harp with Only One String?”). Finally, in the title letter, she addresses these “Dear Sirs,” “cutting the threads” which, they hopefully imagine, still binds her to each of them.

Of necessity somewhat fragmentary. Still, another engagingly original work from one of Europe’s most interesting writers.