The paradoxical survival of a lifelong dream through generations of hardship and change is vividly dramatized in this 2002 novel, the Italian author’s first in English translation.
The narrative comprises four journeys, variously experienced or communicated by protagonist Florian, the son of a German bookkeeper and his highly educated, high-spirited Italian wife Rosanna. The first journey is undertaken by Rosanna’s father Giorgio Bellusci, who travels from his home village of Roccalba in southern Italy to the region of Calabria, where he resolves to rebuild a once-famous inn, the Fondaca del Fico, and encounters “aspiring photographer” Hans Heumann (father of Rosanna’s future husband Klaus). During subsequent journeys, Florian and his family travel back and forth from their home in Hamburg to Roccalba, where Rosanna visits her numerous relatives and commiserates with her mother. The latter is bereft since Giorgio, having refused “protection” payments to local “brigands,” had reacted violently to the brigands’ destruction of his farmland (allusions to the film The Godfather are prominent here and elsewhere in the narrative). The process of Florian’s maturing is linked to his gradual discovery of his family’s history and secrets, including a journey taken in 1835 (the year of a “great earthquake”) by Alexandre Dumas and his traveling companion, the artist Jadin, which included a stayover at the Fondaco, then run by Giorgio’s ancestor Gioacchino—and another object of brigands’ violence. Reading this novel thus requires making connections—exactly as Florian does while simultaneously reuniting the estranged strands of his families and becoming another Bellusci defined and burdened by a legacy of obligation and honor.
A moving portrayal of generational continuity, subtly fashioned as an enigmatic tale whose knottiest puzzles lay claim to and enhance the reader’s fascination.