Winfrey’s debut novel reimagines the life of Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian radio-communications pioneer.
It would seem that Marconi was born to be an inventor. Fascinated by experiments throughout his young life, his most notable and destructive work was conducted when he was a child, inspired by his reading of Benjamin Franklin’s work on electricity. He passed an electric current through the family’s dinner plates by coiling wire around them and connecting them to a battery. This resulted in the plates being shattered and his father punishing him severely. On another occasion, he severed the tip of his ring finger when working, but continued with his task, stating that he would get it “stuck back on by and by.” It was this unswerving determination, along with an alarming intellect, that led him to dedicate his research to “wireless telegraphy.” His discoveries changed the world, pioneering a long-distance radio-transmission system upon which contemporary methods of communication were founded. With his success came a rise to fame. The novel examines his move to England and the work conducted in the service of Queen Victoria, his meeting with Thomas Edison, and his receipt of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Marconi’s story is told in a simple, flat, “he did this, he did that” manner with little embellishment. The narrative begs for more dialogue, and the author’s deployment of simile and metaphor is staid: “He had arrived like a gust of energetic wind. Blond, blue-eyed, and dressed in emerald green, he reminded Guglielmo of a leprechaun.” There are, however, a scattering of delightful exceptions: “He shook Marconi’s hand three times, moving it up and down, reminding Marconi of the pump in the backyard of Villa Griffone.” The novel is one of a collection of books titled the Mentoris Project, which champions the work of great Italians and Italian-Americans, but the author doesn’t shy away from detailing Marconi’s unapologetic leanings towards fascism, making for a well-rounded, warts-and-all portrait. Despite its failings, this novel proves to be an educational read that also offers some speculative insight into the private life of the inventor.
Edifying but not electrifying.