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by Zito Madu

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2024
ISBN: 9781953368669
Publisher: Belt Publishing

An author’s trip to Venice takes a distinctly Borgesian turn.

In November 2020, soccer club Venizia F.C. offered Nigerian American author Madu a writing residency as part of its plan “to turn the team into a global entity of fashion, culture, and sports.” Flying to Venice for the fellowship, he felt guilty about leaving his immigrant parents, who were shocked to learn upon moving to the U.S. years earlier that their Nigerian teaching certifications were invalid, forcing his father to work as a stocking clerk at Rite Aid to support the family. Madu’s experiences in Venice are incidental to what is primarily a story about his family, especially his strained relationship with his father, who was disappointed with many of his son’s choices. Unfortunately, the author’s seeming disinterest in Venice renders much of the narrative colorless. He says the trip across the Ponte della Libertà bridge was “magical,” but nothing he describes—the “endless water on both sides,” the nearby seagulls—is particularly remarkable. Little in the text conveys a sense of place or the unique character of his surroundings. Madu is at his best when he focuses on family dynamics and his observations that, in the largely deserted city, “I was one of the few Black people around.” He cites Borges, giving special note to the author’s “The House of Asterion,” in which the minotaur “explains his situation as a creature and as a creature within the labyrinth” of multiple mirrors. This notion leads to the Borgesian turn in the book’s second half, when, in an extended sequence, Madu imagines himself transformed into a minotaur, with “the head of a bull” and his body “larger, thicker, powerful but also cumbersome.” It’s an engaging passage, although stylistically out of keeping with much of what has come before.

An intriguing but uneven family memoir and travelogue.