How well can we know anyone we are close to? That is the question narrator Gianni Orzan strives to answer in Veronesi's prize-winning seventh novel and first English-language release. Mere weeks after Gianni's father is buried in contemporary Rome, Gianni, a writer of children's books, is confronted by a menacing cab driver who suggests that Gianni's father led a life of espionage. Is it possible his father was a KGB operative from 1945 to his death? And how does the cab driver know such intimate details about the family? Veronesi is far more concerned with Gianni's inner workings and self-doubt-his anguish at having been unable to get along with his father, his worries about his weaknesses as a writer and his distress at the prospect of his wife's infidelity-than with the suspense story underpinning his narrative. But Gianni's companionable voice, and Veronesi's talent for evoking the texture of everyday life in Rome ("outside, the friendly sounds... began to reemerge: an ambulance siren, warped by the Doppler effect, the monstrous roar of an accelerating motorcycle") give the novel a comfortable, conversational feel. The meandering interior monologues pose a challenge for the translator, who makes an admirable effort, but sometimes stumbles into poetic opacity-"The sun was slowly setting over the Janiculum, and the muezzin of abuse had struck up the same litany as the day before, with the same desperation as the day before"-and the secondary characters are mostly just grist for Gianni's musings. Nevertheless, this is a novel of low-key charms and roundabout pleasures.
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*Starred Review* After being confronted by a strange man who seems to know an uncomfortable amount of information about his family, Gianni Orzean thinks the worst and escapes with his family to the countryside. Through the course of this novel, Orzan develops a relationship with this sinister man, and in doing so, strengthens his relationship with his recently deceased father (who Gianni never much liked). Gianni always knew his father to be a Fascist supporter and retired Italian army officer, often at odds with his left-wing son. What Gianni is told by this strange visitor, however, is that his father was really a KGB spy, carrying out his mission to infiltrate Italian fascism and the army. As Gianni struggles with whether to accept these stories as fact or fiction, and struggles to reconcile his relationship with his father, he also confronts some startling developments in his own family. Veronesi is a master storyteller who keeps his readers breathless until the very end. He captures a man's midlife reexamination of the relationship with his father perfectly, and without cliche--a nearly impossible feat. Michael Spinella
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