fiction, review

Rispondimi

Indonesian edition’s cover (source: http://www.gramediapustakautama.com)

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

fiction, review

Ascolta la mia voce

Indonesian edition’s cover

Ascolta la mia voce comes along to bring to light Marta’s side of story, Olga’s granddaughter in Susanna Tamaro’s previous novel, Va’ dove ti porta il cuore. This philosophical drama still carries the subject of women and family issues. Tamaro is steadfastly consistent in the way of her storytelling and portraying of characters. Reading this so-called sequel of Va’ dove ti porta il cuore has been an exceptional experience to me. Not only does it complete the previous story, but it also completes my learning of humanity.

Upon the death of her grandmother Olga, Marta, who for a good reason best known to herself hates Olga so much, is sunk deeply in thought of her mother, Ilaria. Topped with nagging curiosity, Marta sets to find out about the history of her family. Realizing that Olga never tells her much about her parents, Marta tries to track anything related to her mother Ilaria, and the father she never knows. She finally gets her hand on Ilaria’s memorabilia and letters and diary. After reading them, Marta comes to know her father, Massimo Ancoda, who has apparently abandoned her from the very start of her life. Having met Massimo afterward only brings home to her the fact that he is a selfish man and afraid of shouldering responsibility.

Knowing her father never seems to care enough about her, Marta then decides to track the path of her family to her grandmother’s cousin, Gionata, in Israel. Their conversation results in Marta getting some revelation and enlightenment of life and understanding what life is for others. Everything seems so sobering and convenient there in Israel when the news of her father’s death reaches her, so she goes back to Italy to see him for the last time. At the end of the story, she finds Olga’s diary (written as the story of Va’ dove ti porta il cuore), and reads it.

Here, Tamaro elaborates expansively the character of Marta, the distant, untouchable granddaughter in Va’ dove ti porta il cuore. Even better, through its plot and narrative, Tamaro seems to give Marta more room to show her feelings and thoughts, more than what she does to Olga. Tamaro creates Marta as a hateful woman, with complicated feelings and mysterious past. And then she slowly puts Marta through difficult and unbelievable revelations, showing her the reality of life and of being a woman. Unlike what she does before, Tamaro doesn’t make Marta a single character to tell the entire story, with a few additional characters to help the narrative building it. However, this way the reader can still see Marta more closely and comprehend her character.

Like its previous number, Ascolta la mia voce relies on its narrative more than dialogues, despite the facts that it has more characters in it. This may become its only, yet certainly unsettling, weakness. Though beautifully written, it doesn’t mean that putting up the whole story in an unpunctuated narrative, without any good ground for it (as it is applied in Va’ dove ti porta il cuore), is excusable. Be that as it may, I would say that this book has a wider thought on women’s issues and life. Its plot brings the reader to digging little by little the philosophy of life, at least in the author’s point of view. It is very deep and inspiring, putting aside the question whether or not it is acceptable to the reader.

In conclusion, Ascolta la mia voce is still a worth-reading book for its nice story and thoughtful philosophy, although some readers may not excuse its narrative and more complicated language. I recommend this book to those who are really interested in women’s issues and the discovery of what life has for us.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Va’ dove ti porta il cuore

Indonesian edition’s cover (source: http://www.gramediapustakautama.com)

It is always intriguing for me to get my hands on European literary works. Reading European literature is never dull. But what makes it worthwhile for any readers to read Susanna Tamaro’s Va’ dove ti porta il cuore? It can be its mind-numbing narrative. Or its feminist message. Or its female characters. Readers who love drama may even like the sad atmosphere shrouding it. But I would personally say that the whole package of the book is what makes it worthwhile. This novel is among my first European reads, and reading it has excited me even more.

The story may have several characters in it, but the narrative is itself centered on the character of Olga. She seems to be a single character to tell the entire story. The idea of this book is to have her reveal a story through writing a diary for her granddaughter. I can tell that this novel depends so much on narrative rather than dialogues, which can be a bit boring for some. But the fact that the main character is actually writing a diary makes it just sensible. Besides, Tamaro composes her narrative nicely so I wouldn’t say it’s boring to read.

Olga, an old sick woman, is having a troubled relationship with her granddaughter. It is her granddaughter’s nature and her chosen way of life which are responsible for their difficult  communication. Aware of her health condition and coming time, Olga decides to write a special diary for her granddaughter, explaining the history of their female predecessors in family, the history of the granddaughter herself (which is not exactly what she thinks it is), and most of all, how this life is running.

Following Olga’s writing, you’d think her words are so philosophical. I can’t say that Tamaro deliberately wants to lecture the reader about philosophy of life, even though it’s what it seems on the outside. However, the feminist echo reverberating from Olga’s story caught my attention more than anything in the book. It conveys some different paths of feminism. The main character may not claim herself to be a feminist, but she is to me clearly revealing the true reality of being a woman, the women’s issues to be exact: positions, sufferings and everything. Considering the whole story, this book is solely about women. With its nice and easy language, I don’t think this book will be a dull read so anyone who doesn’t care about feminism nor gender issues won’t have to be afraid.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Va’ dove ti porta il cuore is not a lecture book, but it gave me so much to think about. Its narrative and the way it is written are wonderful. A pity it’s a little bit absurd so I couldn’t really get into the story and lose myself in it. Nevertheless, for those who love European literary works and have a little care about women’s issues, Va’ dove ti porta il cuore is not something to miss.

Rating: 3.5/5