A debut novel focuses on a scientist and engineer’s look back on her own life.
When readers first meet Lauren Giulio, she is on a flight to Rome. Lauren is an American whose father was born in the small town of Panni, Italy. She knows little about his past, and due to the demands of her work, she has never had the time to do much investigating. She embarks on her current quest in order to “unravel the mystery around her father’s childhood” and perhaps learn more about herself. Upon arrival in Rome, Lauren hails a cab to Panni, though things feel amiss. The cab driver is strikingly like her father. The two men even have the same name. Of course, the driver cannot be Lauren’s father because he is dead. The coincidences are brushed aside so that the visiting American can connect with her cousin Gabriella. Lauren will tell Gabriella everything about her life over the past few decades. Lauren explains her struggles in college, how she eventually embarked on a career as a scientist and engineer, and how she learned that “in the business world, nothing remains static.” Amid all the details about professional ladder climbing, there are personal, often painful anecdotes. Lauren tells of her mother’s death. She explains how, just a few years after that heartbreak, she lost her husband, Peter. All in all, she has much to reveal and Gabriella has plenty of time to listen. (In an author’s note, Graf explains the novel’s title: “I can’t forget my niece Lauren and her daughter Caroline, for whom Auntie wrote this book.”)
Although the protagonist certainly has a lot to say in the intriguing tale, events move quickly. At well under 300 pages, the work avoids unnecessary languishing. The death of Peter is, for instance, described with great anguish yet still summed up succinctly. Lauren reveals that at one point, the whites of Peter’s eyes “were such a bright yellow that they scared me.” Lauren’s career, on the other hand, while still explained with brevity, does not always make for such memorable reading. It is not entirely thrilling to learn the specifics of Lauren’s admission to the Tufts Graduate School of Engineering or how she had to clean out her desk at one company after her position was relocated and she quit. Likewise, flat statements such as “Lauren was accepted to the four colleges she applied to” and how at one job “the training was conducted both on-site and also at the customers’ locations” do not exactly ring with excitement. Late in the story, it is informative for readers to learn why Lauren decided to earn a business degree. But her assertion about how, with her employer footing most of the bill, she didn’t have to worry about “the cost of the eighteen courses required in the program” sounds more like an advertisement than the words of a real person. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, her experiences convey lessons learned. Through all of her triumphs and tragedies, Lauren has much to teach readers.
While a few topics can be dull, this tale adroitly portrays one woman’s complex journey.