Scott continues to swim against the literary mainstream with her seventh novel, set on the island of Elba and in the mind and memory of an elderly Italian-American woman.
In 1944, she was ten-year-old Adriana Nardi, the sheltered daughter of a wealthy family whose comfortable estate (“La Chiatta”) was a safe haven during climactic battles between Nazi and Fascist troops and the Allied armies pledged to liberate Elba (a storied place known as Napoleon’s place of exile). In the present day, she is Newark matron Mrs. Robert Rundel, who on the day after her 70th birthday, suffers a pulmonary embolism while aboard a train approaching New York’s Penn Station—as she indulges emotional reminiscences of that long-ago “liberation.” Scott juxtaposes expertly the thoughts of impulsive young Adriana and those of the Senegalese soldier she finds, hurt and hiding: Senegalese teenager Amdu Diop, who had become separated from his regiment, and who is—at Adriana’s urging—given shelter at La Chiatta. It’s a rich premise, but the story’s action lags for too long behind redundant (albeit vivid and credible) declarations of Adriana’s adoring fascination with the dark exotic stranger, and Amdu’s charmingly naïve envisionings of himself as a potential humanitarian and savior (perhaps even a saint), whose ineptness as a fighting man threaten his exile from the virtual Eden that is liberated Elba. The narrative is enriched by Scott’s renderings of the thoughts of intelligent Nardi matriarch Giulia and of her inanely self-centered brother Mario (whose actions precipitate tragic misunderstandings). But similar use of Mrs. Rundel’s fellow train passengers amount to no more than pointless distractions. Amdu and Adriana are nevertheless powerfully appealing figures, and they alone (and together) make this ungainly novel well worth reading.
Unequal to Scott’s best work (The Manikin, 1996, etc.), but her voice remains one of contemporary fiction’s most eloquent and essential.