fiction, review


Indonesian edition’s cover (source:

Love stories have been being written so many times in so many ways over the centuries, but not many of them, I daresay, are presented to the reader philosophically, and yet sternly memorable. In search of other works by Susanna Tamaro, I grabbed a hold of Rispondimi quickly after reading Ascolta la mia voce. It’s her another work of philosophical fiction, in tradition of Va’ dove ti porta il cuore and Ascolta la mia voce, and talks about love in its own way, delivering the other side of the abundance of love and the unpleasant consequences suffered by people feeling and having it.

Divided into three, each story implies the same moral and idea, in which its main character is depicted as fragile and vulnerable. Rosa is the first to show up, with gnawing hatred for her uncle and aunt and a sense of emptiness about everything she has, asking what love is over and over again yet never gets the correct answer, the answer she is looking for. She eventually finds something she can call home, and gets to feel the love she’s been searching for in a Mother who employs her as a babysitter. But soon, she finds her world crashing down when she lets herself fall into what could be the freedom of being loved.

The fragility of a soul can as well be seen in the character of a loving Mother, who feels unashamedly happy about her husband’s death. That glorious feeling bursts out of her heart as a result of her husband’s miserable mistake of killing their own son—their beloved son—years ago. This feeling may not seem so wrong, looking at the fact that she has witnessed her husband’s terribly monstrous behavior at home all the time, or that she has been haunted by the guilt of being weak and not fighting back while her beloved son fights on his own.

The third story sees the proof of Tamaro’s unquestionable character-writing capability, where she plays a role in a man’s viewpoint. She unawkwardly tells the reader about what it is like to be an obsessive man, what it is like to love a woman for her weakness and dependence on him. When their daughter shows a bad indication of illness, his wife emanates more strength instead. The cheerful and gaily attitude of his wife leads him to wrongly accusing her of having an affair. Blinded by his own thought and demanding love, he then accidentally kills her.

Reading Rispondimi, it is plain to see that Tamaro gives more room for female characters to speak out than for the male one. Though depicted as weak and helpless, those two women have the power of love inside them. And while the one man here is obviously stronger, physically, he cannot stop himself from being vulnerable inside, what with his jealousy and need to be needed. However, the characterization of these three different people creates a certain pattern where sanity is not a part of love, nor the act of loving. All of them are overwhelmed by love, paralyzed by the need to be loved, thus having no sense to act sanely nor reasonably. All of them are devastated, literally and figuratively, because of their own blindness and doings.

Rispondimi is not merely about love, or the many ways in which we can show our love, it gets deeper into the characters of the people showing their love. The way I see it, Tamaro wants to say that love and natural character are chemical to each other and therefore result in people having different ways of showing their feeling. However, there is one thing people should hold fast, it is sincerity. Without it, we will be blinded and obsessed.

Tamaro never fails to make me awed with her stories and beautiful writing, and her narrative has always been simple but philosophical. But the atmosphere shrouding Rispondimi is too gloomy and sad to my taste. It’s too rueful, too tearful, too mournful, too grim that I couldn’t stand it. It’s nothing like the other two Tamaro’s books I’ve read so far. It still has the message of feminism vaguely implied in its characterization, which is interesting, but the fact that the book is too thin to contain three stories doesn’t seem wise to me. It’s too compact, if I may say so.

Nevertheless, Rispondimi is truly a great work of philosophical fiction with an idea unlike any other, or at least a narrative quite different from what other authors have ever written. So, this book is definitely for those who are looking for the other side of love, something other than just romanticism or lust.

Rating: 3/5

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