A pensive, beautifully written meditation on personhood and nationhood in the new age of European unity.
Novelist, translator and professor Tabucchi (It’s Getting Later All the Time, 2006, etc.), who died three years ago, was an Italian who loved Portugal above all other places but who always looked homeward as well. Just so, many of the characters in this joined collection—something more than short stories but not quite a novel—are stateless and uprooted; they come from somewhere else, and they’re never quite at home where they are. So it is that, in one of the most memorable pieces, a South American adoptee protests to a returning war veteran that she is as Italian as he is: “I am totally Italian like you and maybe even more than you, sir, but I like languages and I also know the Mameli anthem by heart….” The reader who is not versed in contemporary Italian society or, for that matter, European geopolitics may miss a reference or two here and there, as when the young girl continues to say that she doesn’t like the politico who’s threatening to abolish that anthem, said piece of musical patriotism having been taken up by fascists and communists alike back in a day that continues to haunt these pages. Other of Tabucchi’s characters wander the streets of New York, London, Berlin, their personal geographies not always jibing with modern realities; thinks another young woman in Paris, “it’s a Haussmann building, and Haussmann was Haussmann, and that was that, yet what did Haussmann have to do with what she was?” Tabucchi would have assumed that the reader knew who Haussmann was, among his other allusions, but one might want to read these illuminating stories with historical dictionary at hand.
A quibble: The title might have been more idiomatically rendered Time Gets Old in a Hurry, getting at the paradoxes and wordplay that Tabucchi loved. A pleasure all the same for fans of modern European literature.