Monday, 31 January 2011

Book review: Brother of the More Famous Jack

I read this book as part of the Italy in Books and LGBT reading challenges 2011!

By Barbara Trapido

Winner of the Whitbread Special Prize for Fiction, Brother of the More Famous Jack is a coming-of-age novel centred on 18-year-old Katherine. Approached in a bookshop by the queer John Millet, who takes a shine on her and introduces her to the Goldmans.

Jacob Goldman is going to be Katherine philosophy professor at university and he leads an extremely messy family life in the Sussex countryside, where he lives with his wife Jane and their six children. Despite her initial apprehension, Katherine is soon drawn to this unconventional household and ends up falling in love with Roger, the couple’s eldest son.

Katherine is in awe of him but, on his part, Roger doesn’t consider her to be his equal and, once he moves to Oxford to continue his studies, he breaks up with her. Feeling lost, Katherine turns to John Millet, whom she knows spent some time living in Italy, and asks him for help. With his support, she decides to experience life abroad and travels to Rome, where she will teach English and start a relationship with an Italian man.

Her Italian life, however, doesn’t have a happy ending. On her return to England, she seeks out the Goldmans and re-establishes that long-lost relationship with the professor and his family. A relationship capable of evolving and adapting to the changes that all of them have gone through during the years.

I did enjoy this book but I didn’t feel a connection to any of the characters. I wasn’t moved or particularly amused at any given time. In fact, I was a little annoyed by the portrayals of both John Millet and Italians. The former, true to his queerness, loves fashion, good food and good-looking boys and girls. The latter can’t handle a girl in mini-skirt, are too attached to their mothers, expect only ignorance and brutality from the police, are superstitious and are obsessed with their anti-clericalism, whichever their political ideologies.

I understand that the author had to describe a minor character in a book which has a rather large cast and had to give a sense of the Italian location in the space of a few chapters but I felt that stereotypes could have been reined in a little.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Amanda Sington-Williams and her writing tips

Amanda Sington-Williams, whose short story The Zoo Keeper has previously appeared on Book After Book in serialised form, has generously agreed to share her writing tips with us over the next few months.

With an MA in Creative Writing and Authorship from Sussex University and her debut novel, The Eloquence of Desire, published by Sparkling Books, she teaches novel writing at The Hanover Centre in Brighton.

So, my dear aspiring writers, remember to come back on February 11th for your first lesson, which will be about characterisation.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Help! My wish list #9

One more title from my endless wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
By Jeanette Winterson

Amazon's product description: Jeanette, the protagonist of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and the author's namesake, has issues --"unnatural" ones: her adopted Mam thinks she's the Chosen one from God; she's beginning to fancy girls; and an orange demon keeps popping into her psyche. Already Jeanette Winterson's semi-autobiographical first novel is not your typical coming-of-age tale. Brought up in a working-class Pentecostal family, up North, Jeanette follows the path her Mam has set for her. This involves Bible quizzes, a stint as a tambourine-playing Sally Army officer and a future as a missionary in Africa, or some other "heathen state". When Jeanette starts going to school ("The Breeding Ground") and confides in her mother about her feelings for another girl ("Unnatural Passions"), she's swept up in a feverish frenzy for her tainted soul. Confused, angry and alone, Jeanette strikes out on her own path, that involves a funeral parlour and an ice-cream van. Mixed in with the so-called reality of Jeanette's existence growing up are unconventional fairy tales that transcend the everyday world, subverting the traditional preconceptions of the damsel in distress.

Why I want to read this book: I have a "difficult relationship" with Jeanette Winterson. Since reading Written On The Body - which is my favourite book of all times - her other works have failed to live up to my expectations. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is a classic and I'm curious to see why.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Competition time: The Eloquence of Desire

If you enjoyed The Zoo Keeper - the serialised short story that has appeared on Book After Book over the past five weeks - and look forward to reading more by its author, Amanda Sington-Williams, this is your chance to win her first novel, The Eloquence of Desire.

Published by Sparkling Books, The Eloquence of Desire is set in the mid 1950s and is set in old Malaya, London and Brighton. After his affair with his boss’s daughter is discovered, George is sent to Malaya as punishment. His wife Dorothy follows him while their twelve year old daughter, Susan, goes to boarding school. Still ruled by Britain, Malaya is in the throes of the Emergency. The intense tropical heat and her fear of the civil unrest turn Dorothy into a recluse while George, frustrated by her rejection, embarks on another affair. After an attack by Chinese Communists, Susan, over from England, finds her father and lover together. An event that will have serious consequences...

Here is a short interview with the author, Amanda Sington-Williams, which will give you a little more insight in the workings of the novel…

Q: Where did the idea for The Eloquence of Desire originate?
A: The idea for The Eloquence of Desire came from The Carving, a short story which was short-listed for the Asham Award, a short story prize for unpublished women writers. The short story was set in 1930s Malaya but I decided to set my novel in the mid 1950s. I have always been interested in the ‘50s and the expectations and the consequential ‘cover-ups’ within family life during that decade. In the 1950s, divorce was unusual and I was curious to see how a dysfunctional family would cope after being sent off to a far flung British Colony in the throes of a civil war.

Q: What did you want to achieve with this novel?
A: I wanted to convey tropical heat, the terror of the unrest and a feeling of helplessness. In the case of Dorothy, in particular, I wanted to portray the suffering wife, isolation. I have to admit to having a fascination for obsessive love and the kind of ‘madness’ that comes with it. I was interested to see how obsessive love would affect a man who was forced to live thousands of miles from the woman he desired. I was also keen to explore how a teenage daughter would react to these changed circumstances. In the novel, Susan, visits her parents in Malaya during the holidays from boarding school. It is while she is in Malaya that she finds out things about her family that she was unaware of before. I used to work with ‘vulnerable’ young people and drew on that experience to describe her emotional state and how she coped with parents who refused to tell her what was going on.

Q: Was it difficult to set your novel in such an exotic country?
A: I’ve visited Malaysia many times so had my own experience to draw on. Also, my grandparents lived there for twenty years and my mother was born there so I was able to use their photographs to help me describe locations in the novel.

For a chance to win a copy of this book, courtesy of Sparkling Books, please click here to answer a simple question. The competition will close on Monday, 21st March and the winner will be contacted by e-mail asap. Open to UK residents only.

For more information about The Eloquence of Desire or to buy your own copy with no further delay, please click here.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Kimberly Menozzi and... The Space Between Languages

As anticipated, here is the first guest blog appearance of Kimberly Menozzi on Book After Book… Enjoy and, please, leave your comments below!

Seven years ago (December 23rd, 2003, to be exact), I arrived in Italy totally unprepared for what I would find. I knew that Alessandro would be here, essentially acting as a guide, much like I had done for him in the States. However, he'd had one advantage there: he spoke English. Not perfectly, not fluently, but well enough to get by and ask all the essential questions. I, on the other hand, spoke no Italian at all, in spite of his attempts to teach me over the phone and when we were together in the US for his three-week visit.

Next thing I knew, I was in Italy and like one of the songs on the mix CD Alle had given me said, I was "senza ali e senza rete – without wings and without a net". Although I've lived in various parts of the United States, I've never lived in a bigger city there. I'd only taken a public bus once – and that was in London, with a friend leading me around. I'd never taken trains anywhere as a matter of public transportation – and that was something Alle took for granted. Suddenly I was in a place where this was the norm, and I didn't know how to do things.

Worse yet, I couldn't ask anyone – except Alle – for help at all. Without the language, I was essentially without a voice.

Anyone who knows me knows that this is a strange situation. I'm talkative, once I get to know someone and get past that initial shyness. Actually, "talkative" is a misnomer. I'm difficult to shut up, once I get going. When I'm home alone, I talk to the cat. Or myself. Failing that, I sing along to whatever music I'm playing. As a result, finding myself so silent was a surprise even for me.

But silent I was. My first attempts at Italian were dreadful, and this saddened me. What magic formula was I missing out on? Where was I going astray? Why was it so hard to say a simple "Ciao" or "Buongiorno" to someone when they'd said it to me?

Then Alle asked me to marry him, and I said yes. The panic came later: I was going to live in Italy, and I couldn't handle the simplest linguistic exchanges. Was I nuts?

Apparently so.

Since I didn't speak the language, I had to learn it. While Alle went to work, I sat at a desk in his old bedroom with several books on learning Italian in front of me. I struggled with the words. I practiced aloud, and sometimes even tried words and phrases out on Alle's father – who spoke no English – and felt no closer to my goal. I couldn't get the words out. It was understood that I'd need an interpreter for the wedding, because I wouldn't be able to understand the civil laws surrounding it. No interpreter, no wedding. I was already picking up the written word – I was reaching a point of properly getting the gist of newspaper articles and parts of stories – but spoken conversation eluded me. I couldn't match the sounds to the words.

I studied harder, but the words still didn't come easily. In time, I could greet the people in the building. My buongiorno had become comprehensible at last, and buonasera and salve soon followed. Soon other phrases I heard frequently began to sink in: Allora filled some awkward silences, and Va bene did, too. Dai, fa schifo and a few others were made clear in context. It wasn't long before I was uttering my own "Uffa"s and "B'oh"s along with the others. Then came "permesso" in the crowds, along with "scusi" and "scusate" when I'd inadvertently stepped on someone's toes (literally).

The big surprise came after the wedding, after my trip back to the US for my visa application, when I returned again to Italy to truly start my life here. Time passed, and I started picking up the words with greater ease. One day I realized that I was reading street signs and billboards with full comprehension. Menus were less confusing – most of the food terms I'd picked up reasonably quickly, needing clarification for unfamiliar foods less and less often. Alle still ordered food for me, but it was becoming less necessary.

My confidence grew in small bursts. I learned how to give directions quickly because whenever I went for a walk by myself I was stopped by someone asking how to get to the hospital. "Vai alla sinistra al semaforo, e poi dritto, dritto – l'ospedale è sulla sinistra. Okay?" I'd manage, then pray I'd gotten it right. (I had, more or less.)

Naturally, the "naughty words" were the easiest to pick up. It wasn't long before I had a full arsenal at my disposal. Of course, Alle doesn't understand where I picked such bad words up – but hey, I watch TV and films here too, you know!

A funny thing began to happen. The readjustment to life in the US during my visits took longer each year. I started forgetting English words. When I'd go to the US, I'd find myself looking for things in the supermarket under their Italian names. I greeted people with "Ciao!" or "Salve!" or "Buongiorno!" or thanked them with "Grazie" without thinking about it. In Italian restaurants, I'd order in Italian, occasionally leaving the servers confused. (I gave this trait to Emily in Ask Me if I'm Happy, as well.)

Usually I find the English word in time, but some of them seem to be lost forever. I think that's okay, though. Besides, some English words fall short in the descriptive category. For me, Vietato is more emphatic than "Forbidden". Amaro, even visually, conveys "bitter" in a visceral manner. (Say it and see if your expression doesn't reflect that taste.) Bacio for "kiss" is another good one: Your lips just beg for one, even as you say it.

I'm not fully bilingual, and I don't claim to be. For example, I have yet to read a whole book in Italian, even though I've read magazine articles with relative ease. It'll happen eventually – and yes, seven years is more than enough time to reach that goal, but I'm a very slow learner. In the meantime, however, I'll continue exploring this space between languages and see what it has to show me. There's always so much more to learn.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Help! My wish list #8

One more title from my long reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

The Lace Reader
By Brunonia Barry

Amazon’s product description: Drawn by family. Driven by fear. Haunted by fate. Would knowing the future be a gift or a burden? Or even a curse!? The Whitney women of Salem, Massachusetts are renowned for reading the future in the patterns of lace. But the future doesn't always bring good news -- as Towner Whitney knows all too well. When she was just fifteen her gift sent her whole world crashing to pieces. She predicted -- and then witnessed -- something so horrific that she vowed never to read lace again, and fled her home and family for good. Salem is a place of ghosts for Towner, and she swore she would never return. Yet family is a powerful tie and fifteen years later, Towner finds herself back in Salem. Her beloved great-aunt Eva has suddenly disappeared -- and when you've lived a life like Eva's, that could mean real trouble. But Salem is wreathed in sickly shadows and whispered half-memories. It's fast becoming clear that the ghosts of Towner's fractured past have not been brought fully into the light. And with them comes the threat of terrifying new disaster.

Why I want to read this book: I like the title and the book could be pretty much about anything and I would still want to read it! Sometimes I am really shallow!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Zoo Keeper - Part 10

It's time to say goodbye to our heroine, Senor Fernandez and Juan...

The Zoo Keeper
Part 10 of 10
By Amanda Sington-Williams

At last he spoke again. ‘When the animals were all killed, the people wanted to forget, to pretend the past never existed, that the memories of Fascism, of the killings, belonged to a different place, another landscape. So, for the month of the anniversary of the death of Franco, I play recordings of their roars, their bellows, and screeches to remind people of what humans are capable of, to remind them of the past that they would rather didn’t exist at all.’ His eyes opened wide and for a short moment I thought I saw a yellow glint in them, before he blinked and waved his hands at us, ushering us out of the room. His neck retreated into folds of flesh as he slept, snoring like a hippo wallowing in shallow water. Juan knocked back his brandy and stood.

‘The old man gets very tired these days,’ he said.

‘Then we must leave.’ I bent to kiss Senor Fernadez on his thin cheek and felt the wind of his breath on my face. I followed Juan down the stairs and into the street. The shadows were longer and from somewhere across the way a man was singing.

‘How many people come up here?’ I asked Juan.

‘Less and less. No one in this city is interested in the past anymore.’ When we reached the street, he kissed me on both cheeks before he walked away.

That night was the last time I heard the roar of a lion, or the squawking of parrots, and I never saw Juan again, though I regularly scoured the park or loitered in the street where the trail of wires had hung like a trapeze. But a month after my visit, Senor Fenandez was found dead in his apartment. His tape recorder, box of tapes, leads, and loud speakers were consigned to the rubbish tip by the authorities. But one evening when the moon was bright I stole into his apartment before the authorities claimed his possessions and rescued the photographs of the animals from his zoo. Now they hang on my wall of the apartment that overlooks the park where lovers take walks and old people sit gossiping on benches in the shade of the cypress trees.

We reached the end, dear readers! I hope that you have enjoyed The Zoo Keeper as much as I did and that you will come back on Sunday for a chance to win The Eloquence of Desire, the first novel by Amanda Sington-Williams.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Educational graphic novels

During a recent trip to Amsterdam I visited the Dutch Resistance Museum and, as it happens, I couldn’t help but stopping at the museum’s bookshop on my way out. Whatever the language, books are books and need to be looked at and admired!

My eyes were immediately drawn to two displays on neighbouring shelves: each highlighting a graphic novel by Eric Heuvel in the original Dutch and in its English and German translations. On closer inspection, I found out that A Family Secret and The Search - paperbacks in a light A4 format - are everything that you could ever wish books for teenagers to be: well-drawn, entertaining and informative. Both focus on the Second World War and the Holocaust in a way that will catch the kids’ attention and make them think and learn about the past without being too harrowing.

If you click on each of the two titles above, you can see in which other languages they are available and where they can be purchased from. Some editions come with learning materials as well; they were not on display in the shop so I can’t offer my opinion. However, if they are half as good as the graphic novels that they accompany, I am sure that they are worth buying.

I hope that the series will expand and that all titles will become available in more countries as, despite it having been said innumerable times, it is true and people should never stop believing that is important for younger generations to learn about the past so that they can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Monday, 17 January 2011

LGBT reading challenge - January reviews

Thanks again for joining the LGBT reading challenge 2011! If you haven't joined yet, don't worry: there is still time.

Below is a list of all the book reviews that have been submitted in January (via this link). Hopefully you will all find new and interesting titles to explore - I, for one, am sure to gather another few books to add to my TBR list!

Whether you already know the books that are being discussed or not, I strongly encourage you to leave comments below and on the other blogs. I want to hear your voices! Despite its name, the reading challenge is not simply a competition, more of an opportunity to share ideas and bond over our common interests!

And so, let's begin!

01. Saranga read and reviewed Herald by N.F. Houck.

02. Orange Sorbet read and reviewed Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi.
03. Chloe read and reviewed Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.
04. Juliet read and reviewed Wish I was Here by Jackie Kay.
05. Lucy read and reviewed Landing by Emma Donoghue.
06. Dorla read and reviewed Swan by Mary Oliver.
07. Natazzz read and reviewed The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid.
08. Irene read and reviewed Ash by Malinda Lo.
09. Chloe read and reviewed Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.
10. Orange Sorbet read and reviewd The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.
11. J Seth read and reviewed Gay Bar by Helen Branson.
12. Irene read and reviewed With Billie by Julia Bradburn.

Don't forget, one January reviewer is in for a chance to win a copy of Putting It On - The West End Theatre of Michael Codron by Michael Codron and Alan Strachan, courtesy of Duckworth Publishers!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Zoo Keeper - Part 9

Don't let anybody disturb you while Senor Fernandez continues recounting the zoo's past...

The Zoo Keeper
Part 9 of 10
By Amanda Sington-Williams

‘Did you know the mayor?’ I asked.

Finger to lips, Juan looked at me. ‘You must let him talk. He doesn’t get much chance these days to tell people about the zoo.’

I nodded.

Senor Fenandez continued. ‘And so, the people of this city began to think of the animals in the zoo as representing themselves. They were the oppressed, the imprisoned in their lives of obedience, of poverty and deprivation, as the animals were imprisoned in their cages. When the animals howled and roared, desperate for their freedom, so did the people of the city. When they stared into the eyes of the caged lion, they saw themselves. But I fed the animals, I soothed them when they were ill, I watered them in the height of summer.’

I looked up at a picture of young apes wrestling in their enclosure and remembered my uncle. I thought of how he had been made fun of by his family, cast out as a fool who preferred the company of four legged creatures. I wanted to hear this old man’s story and I touched his hand with mine.

Senor Fenandez wheezed as he took a breath. ‘When Franco died in 1975, the people of the city rejoiced. The animals in the zoo were released from their life of imprisonment. But they ran wild in the streets. Two people were killed when the elephant charged. A bear mauled the mayor’s cousin to death. He ordered the citizens to shoot all the animals. The butcher, the baker, the cobbler, newspaper vendors, bar tenders; they were all dragged from their shops and cafes. They had no choice. The mayor was furious with the animals, with the people, with everything that breathed.’

I tried to imagine the ring of bullets, the stench of blood, and the terror.

‘I wanted to die with them.’ He folded his hands on his lap and closed his eyes. There was quiet in the room.

Who could have imagined such a terrible secret? Come back on Wednesday for the last instalment of this beautiful short story...

Friday, 14 January 2011

"Italy in Books" - January reviews

Thanks again for joining the "Italy in Books" reading challenge 2011! What? You haven't joined yet? No worries, there is time to sign up until the very last day of the year...

Below you can find a list of all the book reviews submitted in January (via this link). I am sure that everyone will find it useful to learn about new and interesting reading ideas - in fact, I suspect that as a result of this challenge my TBR list will expand dangerously!

Whether you know the books that are being discussed or have never heard of them, I strongly encourage you to leave comments below and on the blogs themselves. I want to hear your voices! Despite its name, the reading challenge is not a mere competition, rather an opportunity to share ideas and bond over common interests!

And so, let's begin!

01. Mary Jo read and reviewed Beyond the Pasta by Mark Leslie.
02. Patricia read and reviewed Juliet by Anne Fortier.
03. Dorla read and reviewed The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.
04. Jeane read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Scroll down to read her review.
05. Lisa read Due di due by Andrea de Carlo. Scroll down to read her review.
06. Juliet read and reviewed La Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini.
07. Barbara read and reviewed Meet Me in Venice by Elizabeth Adler.
08. Pete read and reviewed Etruscan Places by D.H. Lawrence.
09. Parrish read and reviewed If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino.
10. Lynn read and reviewed The Food of Love by Anthony Capella.
11. BJ read Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Scroll down to read the review.
12. Kathy read and reviewed The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato.
13. Lara read Conta le stelle se puoi by Elena Loewenthal. Scroll down to read her review!
14. Gretchen read and reviewed Path to Rome by Hilaire Belloc.
15. Lindy read and reviewed Last Train from Liguria by Christine Dwyer Hickey.
16. Scribacchina read and reviewed Divorzio all'islamica a viale Marconi by Amara Lakhous.

Reviews by non bloggers:

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Read and reviewed by Jeane:
Il nome della rosa, written in 1980, was incredible.
The story starts in 1327 when Friar William of Baskerville arrives at a wealthy Northern Italian abbey. Umberto Eco describes in a wonderful, beautiful language the abbey, the suroundings and the lives of the monks. You can feel the sun shining while William and the novice Adso discover the Abbey and the first murder. Several other people die and in the middle of a shaken abbey there is laughter, a mysterious medieval library in the shape of a labyrinth which hides its treasures during night when most things seem to happen. All this is completed with a mix of heresy and Bacon.
William needs to find the murderer by asking questions to monks who are masters in silence, using logic and uncovering a library which is closed to everyone by orders of the abbot.
It feels like a classic which I finally read knowing absolutely nothing about the book before, but at the same time I can't believe the story was written in 1980. For many many years I wanted to read this book only because its writer is Italian and it is set in Italy. Love makes you crazy! Now exactly thirty years after being published I finally read it but it feels like a book published in 2010 and not 1980.
It was an amazingly strong story written in a beautiful language and through a very absorbing story. If all my books in 2011 will be as good as this one, then there are beautiful days coming! This evening it is time to watch the movie and if then my boyfriend keeps his promise, he will buy me the new Umberto Eco book!

Due di due by Andrea de Carlo. Read and reviewed by Lisa:
Due di due tells the story of a friendship that develops slowly. We are in Milan, in the mid-seventies, years dominated by revolutionary movements in many European countries; years marked by an increase in wealth and welfare, but also by a growing gap between social classes and increasing uneasiness and restlessness, especially among young people. Against the backdrop of student protests, demonstrations, school and university occupations the friendship between two very different boys develops and grows stronger. Different boys sharing the same need for freedom and for an escape from the hubbub of the modern world, rules and compulsory choices. Guido is charismatic, he attracts the attention of girls and the curiosity of those around him, he is the soul of meetings with his non-conformist and anarchist speeches and he has a special way to communicate – or to remain silent. Mario is fascinated by him; after meeting him, he begins to express his desires more clearly, he tries to hide his shyness, he becomes interested in politics and participates in meetings. Guido decides to leave high school and goes travelling around the world looking for places, things and people to make him happy – despite never finding them. Mario finishes high school with some apathy, uncertainty and difficulty in understanding what he wants to do with his life. While Guido is travelling in Europe, Australia and America, Mario finds his path. He decides to move to the Umbrian countryside, far from hostile, gray and loud Milan. Here he can relax, build a house, a family and do something he enjoys.
"I was thinking how much our lives have been different in these years, and also similar; two of two possible paths that originated from the same crossroad," Mario says.
Two paths, two choices, two adventures. An extraordinary and unforgettable friendship that is not destroyed by distance. On the contrary, it continues to grow despite the passing years and the different ways of living and feeling. Sometimes I think of how precious a friend can be: a comfort during hard times, someone who understands and supports you when nobody else does. A friend has something of you, something that resembles you, and can represent another side of you.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Read and reviewed by BJ:
This was actually a re-read. I read it about 10 years ago but never got around to reading the sequels. So having decided to read the sequels this year, I went back and re-read this one to start. I am attracted to books about people who buy homes in countries other than their own, particularly Italy and France, and tell the stories of restoration of those homes, the highs and lows of it, their travels about their adopted country, the foods they eat, the people they meet, so I really liked this book! I love words and Frances Mayes truly has a way with them. Her descriptions make you see, feel, taste what she is describing. I've never been to Italy, but through her words, I am transported there, seeing the colors and feeling the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. Like many Americans, I eat way too much fast food and junk food, but through her words, I taste the food, the wine, the olive oil and want to cook and eat more healthfully, using more fresh foods and simple preparation. Through her eyes, I have been to Bramasole and can't wait to go there again. If you've seen the movie but not read the book, the movie is really nothing like the book and the book is so much better. I am now looking forward to reading the other books following this one. I have no way of knowing if Italy is really the way she describes it, but she makes me want to go there.

Conta le stelle se puoi by Elena Roewenthal. Read and reviewed by Lara:
If only the darkest and most terrible moment in XX century history would have never happened. If only Shoah would have been a word without meaning. If only Jewish families would have never experienced deportations and death. If only towns and places would have never witnessed destruction provoked by war… Conta le stelle se puoi uses a high dose of imagination to tell about a future and hypothetical memory: what it might have been if. What if World History in XX century would have never passed through the nightmare of the 2nd World War? Everything would have been different, quieter, maybe more boring. Families, people, a gallery of portraits and memories would have survived. Towns as well would be different, proud about their history, without showing the need to delete something that is too terrible to keep alive in memory. The Jewish community who lived in Turin did not have the chance to live such a boring and quiet reality; the price paid, in terms of human lives, has been too high and today there is not much left to say. However, that is why the book is so interesting: Elena Loewenthal depicts what Turin might have been if the course of history would have been different. Turin and its inhabitants, lively people, great workers, attached to traditions: a little Jewish universe in a changing world, the beginning of a new industrial era, with the establishment of FIAT factory.The town is going to grow industrialized, rich, multicultural, and people who are skilled and know how to run their business can give their contribution to town prosperity. Moise Levi, the “grandfather”, a sort of patriarch, leaves his village at the age of 23, heading to Turin. He will not reach immediately the destination: he will get lost, wandering across Piemonte countryside for some years, necessary to make him a mature and wise man; as soon as he arrives in Turin he already knows how to run clothes business and is ready to become entrepreneur. Along the years, his family will grow and grow, like stars in the sky: daughters, sons, nephews, nieces, two wives…a constellation of lives and events. Browsing the pages of Conta le stelle se puoi makes a different effect if the reader knows Piemonte and its Jewish reality one century ago. The writer herself is well aware of this circumstance and, with this purpose in mind, helps the reader in drowning into the narration, making it possible to “recognize” a familiar environment. When the story starts, the ghetto in Turin has just been closed; the protagonists’ house is located in Via Maria Vittoria, close to the Mole Antonelliana, that is going to be completed and that, originally built to be a synagogue, will become a museum dedicated to cinema – a tribute to narration and imagination. The landscape is an element of the story: we appreciate the contrast between countryside of Piemonte, the protagonists’ birthplace, so quiet and peaceful, the warmest place in the coldest nights, mirror of a concrete and comforting society; on the other hand there is the town, wide, noisy, open to a process of continuous development. A book to read, this Elena Loewenthal’s novel: moreover, I would recommend it for the undeniable pleasure to discover a skilled author, by enjoying her elegant and accurate writing.

And remember, two January reviewers are in for a chance to win a copy each of a great debut novel! Buona fortuna!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Help! My wish list #7

One more title from my reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

Howard's End
By E. M. Forster

Amazon’s product description: In Howard's End, E.M. Forster unveils the English character as never before, exploring the underlying class warfare involving three distinct groups: a wealthy family bound by the rules of tradition and property, two independent, cultured sisters, and a young man living on the edge of poverty. The source of their conflict: Howards End, a house in the countryside which ultimately becomes a symbol of conflict within British society.

Why I want to read this book: Because it's a classic and I'm interested in all things British!

Roman Holiday

It is not a book, I know – although John Dighton and Dalton Trumbo did have to write a script – but I have recently watched Roman Holiday, loved it and decided that I am going to take advantage of the connection with my “Italy in Books” reading challenge and post some pictures of “Italy in Films”!

Enjoy a tour of Rome, the eternal city, through some stills of the 1953 romantic comedy directed by William Wyler and starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Zoo Keeper - Part 8

Are you ready to find out about the history of the zoo?

The Zoo Keeper
Part 8 of 10
By Amanda Sington-Williams

‘Some people,’ Senor Fenandez said to me. ‘Are frightened of themselves. They think that if they change their outer appearance, their memories will vanish like the steam of a train as it chugs round a corner. But memories should pass from generation to generation. They must be kept alive, so that we can prevent it from happening again. So it is possible to learn from mistakes.’ For a long moment, his eyes closed and I thought perhaps he’d fallen asleep. ‘Juan will take over from me when I’ve gone,’ he said.

And the zoo?’ I asked. ‘What happened to the zoo? Why-’

‘Senor Fenandez will explain.’ Juan poured out three shots of brandy, handed them round.

The old man scrutinized Juan, then drank his brandy

‘In 1960,’ Senor Fenandez said, ‘the mayor of this town, one of Franco’s men, ordered that the park should be turned into a zoo. He had grand ideas of self-importance, he thought that a zoo would add prestige to the city, that Franco would think him a man of vision, that he would accordingly reward him with gifts and power.’ He stopped for breath. ‘Imagine, the mayor had said at the opening ceremony. Beasts of the jungle, tamed to live here, in this city. Like all of you, he said and pointed to the crowd that had been ordered to cheer him. You too, need to be broken of your communist beliefs. Franco is the greatest.’ Senor Fenandez paused. I took the opportunity to glance round the room at Juan who was sitting, his legs crossed, the brandy cast aside on the table while he stared out of the window. I took a sip of mine and moved my chair nearer to the old man.

Senor Fernandez will continue the story on Sunday. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Book review: The Small Hand

By Susan Hill
Published by Profile Books

Due to unprecedented amounts of snow and extremely low temperatures, this winter I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve seen a book described as “perfect for a day spent sitting by the fireplace”! I promised to myself that I wouldn’t say that about this book – not only because I think that The Small Hand is perfect for any time of year but also because it makes for a rather chilling read.

The Small Hand opens with Adam Snow, a dealer in antiquarian books, getting lost while driving back from a client’s. While looking for help he finds The White House, whose derelict appearance and overgrown garden are obvious signs of abandon. While standing in front of the house, Adam senses a small hand – the hand of a child – creep into his own. He looks around but there is no-one there. Despite the strangeness of this event, however, Adam is not scared. On the contrary, the hand feels benevolent and in the following months he will often hope to experience that touch again.

He clearly doesn’t know what lies ahead.

His interest in the history of The White House, whose garden once used to be featured in magazines and open to the public, becomes an obsession. Suddenly, while in Oxford to discuss a deal for a client, a sense of fear pervades Adam and, from a benign presence, the small hand becomes a terrible force determined to drag him underwater. Fountains and rivers are no longer safe places for him and this unexpected dark power follows him everywhere, including a secluded French monastery where Adam travels to inspect one of Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Nightmares begin to haunt Adam. Hoping to understand the true intentions of the small hand, he returns to The White House, where he makes a disturbing discovery that will seriously threaten his life and that of the people he loves.

Author of The Woman in Black and The Man in the Picture, Susan Hill has the ability to make you feel completely drawn into the events that unfold on the page thanks to her evocative descriptions and credible characters. She is also very good at letting you believe that you know what is going to happen – enough to feel pleased about your intuition but never enough to be absolutely certain that your guess is right or to spoil the unexpected twists in the plot.

This is one of those ghost stories that will keep making you look over your shoulder – whether you’re sitting by the fireplace or not!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

1 month, 100 books: Week one

By @liveotherwise:

One week into our 100 book challenge, and to be honest, it's not looking too promising.

I'm keeping up my end of the bargain, in terms of the number of books I've read myself, but the children are lagging behind in their reading, and haven't got anywhere with their reviewing. Part way through the week we had the first mutiny as Big struggled with the idea of having to read and review, and I wondered if I was asking too much of her. But she pulled herself together and has made notes, so if we can only find a little time to sit together, we can write up the two books she's read so far, and we won't be looking quite so out of touch.

Small has read 2 books too. And the baby is very happy to be being read to - it's possibly her favourite activity. Other than eating chocolate! (She's a girl after my own heart.)

And I'm finding unexpected benefits. I'm finding a whole world of book blogs out there that I didn't know existed. And I'm having to read, which is something I used to do lots of, and haven't for over a year. But I'm not just reading the books I would choose, other people are choosing them for me, and that is unexpectedly great. Particularly Life of Pi, which I don't think I'd ever have picked up of my own accord, but which I really really loved.

I'm hoping I'll feel the same about the rest of the books I have in front of me, though I'm guessing I might not. Still, I'm bound to find a few new authors, and I'm looking forward to it. Even if it's also a little like hard work.

Week 1:
Big - Books read: 2. Reviews to write up: 2.
Small - Books read: 1.5. Reviews to write up. 1.
Jax - Books read: 4. Reviews to write up. 0.
Baby - books read - lots! 5 reviewed, 3 more to write up.

So we've read 15 books. That's only around 2 a day. We need to double that. Aargh.

Could do with a bit of cheering along if anyone out there would care to cheer!


To read all reviews written so far, you can click here! And if you're feeling generous and wish to make a donation towards the creation of an Oxfam Unwrapped library, please click here. Thank you!

The Zoo Keeper - Part 7

Are we going to trust the man in the park and follow him? Read on to find out...

The Zoo Keeper
Part 7 of 10
By Amanda Sington-Williams

We left by an exit I’d not noticed before, where the apartments were older than mine, leaning in on each other, with rusted iron railings on balconies where sheets, towels and underwear hung out to dry. A lead stretched between the buildings dipping across the narrow street; a dog lay in the dust, its mouth slack, tongue lolling. The man turned into one of the buildings, waiting at the entrance and my heart began to pound.

We climbed two flights of stairs. Standing at a little distance away from him, I watched as he opened an apartment door.

‘No problem,’ he said. ‘Nothing to worry about.’

I insisted on the door staying open. Rolling his eyes, he left the door ajar for me. I followed him into a shadowed room overlooking the street. Black and white photos of animals were stuck to the walls: a zebra, an elephant, a lioness, a tiger, monkeys, a fat carpet-patterned snake wound round a tree. Wires trailed across the floor, tangled, like a nest of vipers. A table with heavy clawed feet stood in the centre of the room and the fringes of a red cloth cascaded onto the floor.

I heard a cough and saw in the corner of the room a man with a rug covering his lap, his face lined like bird prints left on wet sand. His eyes, encased in pouches of sun-worn flesh, peered at me. Beside him, the discs on a reel to reel tape recorder were turning slowly.

‘This is Senor Fenandez,’ the younger man, Juan, said to me. ‘He used to be the park zoo keeper.’

The old man nodded towards Juan, then me and I noticed the nails on his hands, hooked, like talons.

Juan pulled a chair out from under a card table and nodded at me to sit. He sat opposite and folded his arms. ‘He will tell you about the zoo,’ he said.

I turned to face the old man and gave him an encouraging smile. ‘I would like to know,’ I said. ‘Everyone I ask will not talk about the zoo. It’s as if they are frightened.’

At last we found someone who will talk about the zoo! But why should people be afraid of a zoo? On Wednesday you will know...

Friday, 7 January 2011

Book review: The Hand That First Held Mine

By Maggie O’Farrell
Published by Headline Review

I finished reading The Hand That First Held Mine, Maggie O’Farrell’s fifth and latest novel, on the same evening that it was awarded the Costa Novel Award and I couldn’t agree more with the jury’s choice. In fact, I am surprised that it hasn’t won all the literary prizes available. Yes, it has made a lasting impression on me!

The narrative of The Hand That First Held Mine, a novel whose subtitle could be “on forgetting and remembering”, is divided into two skilfully crafted storylines at the centre of which are two very strong female characters living in the same city but at different times.

In the 1950s we see Lexie Sinclair leaving her family home in rural Devon and looking forward to an exciting future in London. Through her acquaintance with the mesmerizing Innes Kent, editor of an emerging art magazine, she plunges into the Bohemian life of Soho. Love soon follows but tragic events loom on a not too distant horizon.

In present-day London, Elina and Ted have just had a baby. The emergency Caesarean was a traumatic experience for both of them and, while Elina struggles to remember the details of the birth, Ted is struggling to forget what he has seen and to adjust to the new dynamics of their relationship. At the same time, he is also having flashbacks of a past he can’t quite remember and that are going to unsettle an already precarious equilibrium.

The two stories that make up The Hand That First Held Mine are beautifully written and, as they progress, Lexie, Elina and the cast of main and minor characters that surround them are so clearly portrayed and given a voice of their own that they almost jump out of the page. Vivid is also the way in which London is described, as if you could close your eyes and be magically transported to the streets of Soho or the top of Parliament Hill.

The city, however, is not the only connection between the two storylines. The second link is hidden in clues and hints throughout the novel but becomes evident towards the end, like some sort of epiphany – not unlike that experienced by one of the characters of the book. It’s very clever how the readers are made to participate in this process of discovery rather than being given the role of omniscient bystanders.

After successes like My Lover’s Lover and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, The Hand That First Held Mine is a new and perfectly accomplished reminder of Maggie O’Farrell’s talent for storytelling. Here’s to more!

LGBT challenge: link for January reviews & prize draw

Welcome to the first month of Book After Book's LGBT reading challenge 2011!

This month, courtesy of Duckworth Publishers, ONE of you will have the chance to win a copy of Putting It On - The West End Theatre of Michael Codron by Michael Codron and Alan Strachan.

To participate in the prize draw, all you have to do is:

  1. Read a book - fiction or non-fiction - whose author is LBGT, whose topic is LGBT and/or whose characters (even minor ones) are LGBT
  2. Share your review (or opinion, if it sounds less intimidating!) by clicking here


IMPORTANT! Please note that you need to have signed up for the challenge to be eligible for the prize draw. If you haven't signed up yet, you can do it here (full instructions here). If you can't remember whether you have or haven't signed up, you can check whether your name is listed here.

And now...


Thursday, 6 January 2011

Help! My wish list #6

Two more titles from my rapidly growing reading wish list.

** The cover images are for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of any of these books for review, I will change the cover(s) so as to reflect the edition received. **

Just Take You Coat Off: A lesbian Life
By Barbara Bell

From The daughter of a mill worker in Lancashire, Barbara Bell had her lesbian 'initiation' the year after Radclyffe Hall's The Well Of Loneliness (1928). Since then, she has never had the time to be lonely. [...] Barbara Bell here tells the full story of her extraordinary life and times.

Truly Wilde: The Unsettling Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece
By Joan Schenkar

Amazon's product description:
Born a scant three months after her uncle Oscar's notorious arrest, raised in the shadow of the greatest scandal of the turn of the twentieth century, Dolly Wilde attracted people of taste and talent wherever she went. Brilliantly witty, charged with charm, a "born writer," she drenched her prodigious talents in liquids, burnt up her opportunities in flamboyant affairs, and died as she lived-repeating her uncle's history of excess, collapse, and ruin. In this biography, Joan Schenkar has created both a captivating portrait of Dolly and a cultural history of Natalie Clifford Barney's remarkable Parisian salon-frequented by Janet Flanner, Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes-in which she shone so brightly.

Why I want to read these books: I am very interested in learning about the lives of gay women in other decades - if not centuries. It is always an opportunity to think about how much (or little) progress has been made over the years.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Kimberly Menozzi on Ask Me If I'm Happy

Ladies and gentlemen, it's without further ado that I introduce the talented Kimberly Menozzi, author of...

Eccoci qua – Here we are

Okay, then; first things first. I'd like to thank Silvia for this opportunity to do a guest blog and to share with her readers a little more information about my novel, Ask Me if I'm Happy. And, again in the nature of first things being first, here's some blurbage (As we say in the trade. Occasionally. After a few drinks):

Ask Me if I'm Happy, by Kimberly Menozzi.

Determined to put ten years living in Italy and a loveless marriage behind her, Emily Miller wants nothing to do with anything – or anyone – Italian ever again. Still, she has no choice but to accept help from Davide Magnani, a kind and charming professor, who takes her on an impromptu day-long tour of Bologna and wins her heart in the process. One year later, circumstances dictate that she return to Italy. The only question this time is whether she’ll choose to remain.

Or an even shorter version, such as:

Woman meets man. Love, lies and trust tangle.

Being an American living in Italy, married to an Italian and pursuing a writing career, I must confess that I come at some of the "ex-pat in Italy" stories from a slightly different angle: a slightly more sardonic, cynical angle at times, skewed by my own perspective. Until I met the man who became my husband, I had no interest in Italy. When I say no interest, I mean none. At all. I didn't speak the language, knew nothing of the history and had no real desire to see the place. My dream was to live in England; a place I thought was more suited to my temperament. So my view of Italy is free of any haze of nostalgia or romanticism.

I live here full-time (roughly nine months of the year), so I get to enjoy Italy in all its chaotic glory, the good and the bad, the fabled and the factual. It can be quite overwhelming at times – I've been here eight years now and it's still no clearer to me why the shops are closed Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons, or why Italians are absolutely insane drivers – but there's something about the chaos which endears this country to me.

I was inspired to write Ask Me if I'm Happy while on a trip to the US in 2007. When the accents of Italians speaking English on a travel program featuring Bologna made me homesick for Italy, I had to come to terms with the fact that I had not only fallen in love with an Italian but I was, in fact, pining for Italy itself.

By the next morning, a story had begun to take shape. Drawing on my own experience of being surprised by an Italian transportation strike, I knew what the opening incident would be: a woman is stranded in Bologna by such a strike, unable to get to her destination in time. What followed that setup was purest fancy, on my part: a man comes to her assistance and subsequently seduces her. They spend the day together in his flat, a torrid romantic affair plays out over the course of mere hours, and they part with him caught in his own trap, having hopelessly fallen for her before she leaves to catch the first available train out of the city.

And then it changed. Completely.

What I'd intended to be a short story of a passionate one-day fling became much, much more. The plot changed as Emily and Davide started revealing more about themselves and their relationship. The short story expanded to become first one novella, then two, then three. The characters soon became so tangible to me I would have sworn I saw them on the street as I walked to and from work, or heard their voices in every crowd. I had finally allowed Emily and Davide to have their say in how the story went, and it flowed more easily than anything I'd ever written before. I was completely caught up in their world, and I enjoyed every moment.

I drew inspiration from my friends and coworkers, from the music I listened to, from the daily events in the part of Italy around me. Every aspect of my life had something to contribute to enrich the story. The story was set in an area I felt had been much neglected – if not outright ignored – by other writers. The enthusiastic reception of my work by beta readers and critique partners was enough to tell me I was on the right track.

So I kept writing, revising and editing, until two years had passed. At that point, after having shared some of the work on, I was approached by Diiarts publishing and was told they were interested in publishing my novel.

One year after that, I held the final product in my hand: a heartfelt, romantic and occasionally humorous story taking place in one of the most frustrating and most beautiful places in the world.

And I happen to think you'll enjoy it.

The Zoo Keeper - Part 6

A man is broadcasting zoo sounds across the park! What is he up to?

The Zoo Keeper
Part 6 of 10
By Amanda Sington-Williams

Very slowly, he turned round to face me, just as the sounds of monkeys hooting, reverberated round the park.

‘Aha, a tourist,’ he said.

I corrected him, noticing him stifling a yawn. The man was smaller than me with a head of disorderly curls and dark skin.

‘They kept me awake, these roars, all the animal sounds. I thought there must be a zoo.’ I said. ‘Why? Is it some sort of joke?’

‘I can explain,’ he said.

‘Please do,’ I said in my teacher voice.

He narrowed his eyes and shook his head as if he had just woken. ‘Better still follow me. Then you will understand. For some people it is important. For others…’ He shrugged his shoulders.

‘I can’t possibly-’

‘Why not?’

‘Well. I don’t know you for a start.’

‘You are frightened of me?’

The murmur of voices from the restaurant was dissipating, replaced by the clatter of plates as the waiters cleared up. I wondered whether I should just turn back and go home. Forget all this.

‘Of course not.’

‘Come.’ He began to walk away.

‘But where?’ I asked when I caught up with him.

He pointed to a pair of wrought iron gates.

‘Can’t you just tell me?’

He shook his head, smiling, and I thought perhaps it was time I broke out from the shyness that had plagued me all my life. Wasn’t this one of the reasons I’d come to Spain?

To follow him or not to follow him? That is the question! Come back on Sunday
to find out the answer...

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

"Italy in Books" - Link for January reviews and prize draw

It’s January and the “Italy in Books” reading challenge 2011 has officially started!

This month, courtesy of the independent publisher Diiarts, TWO of you will have the chance to win a copy each of Ask Me If I’m Happy, Kimberly Menozzi’s debut novel - which, if I may add, I'm really looking forward to reading!

To participate in the prize draw, all you have to do is:

  1. Read a book set in Italy or about Italian culture & language
  2. Share your review (or opinion, if it sounds less intimidating!) by clicking here

Easy, isn't it?

IMPORTANT! Please note that you need to have signed up for the challenge to be eligible for the prize draw. If you haven't signed up yet, you can do it here (full instructions here). If you can't remember whether you have or haven't signed up, you can check whether your name is listed here.

And now...

To celebrate this first giveaway, the author herself has agreed to give us a little more insight into her novel, Ask Me If I'm Happy. Come back tomorrow to read more...

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Zoo Keeper - Part 5

Ok, let's go and explore the park...

The Zoo Keeper
Part 5 of 10
By Amanda Sington-Williams

I wandered over to the park, to the restaurant with its striped blue and white parasols. Waiters rushed from table to table, balancing plates as if executing part of a juggling technique, careful not to sweat too much, tea towels slung over an arm. Fish, lentils, rice, succulent juice from roasting, frying, or boiling, wine glasses never allowed to fall empty. The customers chatted and drank, preparing for their afternoon of love and slumber.

I drifted past, following the path that wound round the park, trying to find a bit that I’d missed the day before. But I couldn’t imagine how a zoo could possibly function in a park of this size.

I turned a corner in the park. There was a loud roar. Close this time. And another. I backed in the direction of the restaurant and the park gates. My hands were beginning to sweat and I broke into a run. I would go home and take a siesta. I would sleep for the rest of the afternoon then find another apartment with a city view.

There was no shade and I felt the weight of the heat bearing down on me so I decided to try a short cut and catching my breath I walked round a purple bougainvillea climbing up the park railings. A man was ahead of me, his ear to the railings. Should I turn back, retrace my steps and resume my return home? But I was curious. What was he doing? Slowly, I began to walk in his direction and as I neared I realised just what he was up to. He was adjusting a loud speaker that was attached to the park railings. Perhaps there was going to be a concert. My mood lifted and quickened my pace.

Into my left ear and from one of the loud speakers came a fierce roar and a howl that resonated around the park. I stood still and watched. Fiddling with a couple of the leads, the man didn’t notice me. But who could be bothered broadcasting zoo sounds across a city park on a stifling afternoon? I walked up to him.

‘It’s you?’ I said. ‘It’s all make believe. Not a real zoo.’ I was so put out, my usual timid approach had been replaced by an out of character boldness.

A make believe zoo? What is this man up to? Make sure you come back on Wednesday to find out!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

On the train - a sketch in Italian

Today is the official beginning of the "Italy in Books" reading challenge 2011 and I want to celebrate it by sharing a short and intriguing piece written by an Italian friend, Lara. She composed this as part of an assignment for her creative writing group, Terremoti di Carta, and has kindly agreed to having it published on Book After Book.

I apologise to those of you who don't speak Italian. I want this blog to be as inclusive as possible but sometimes the choice is between sharing something that will be understood by a minority of people and not sharing it at all. In this case, the decision was easy; this is too good to be left out only because it's not available in English.

So, here it goes...

La mattina era uggiosa, cielo grigio e nuvole gonfie di pioggia. Attendevo che arrivasse il treno che mi avrebbe catapultato, come ogni giorno, nelle mie quotidiane incombenze. Eccolo, puntuale o quasi, al binario; salgo facendomi largo tra tanti altri pendolari ed entro nel vagone, già pieno di gente. Vedo, in fondo, un ultimo posto libero, mi avvicino a passi rapidi e rivolgo un cenno all’uomo seduto nel posto immediatamente accanto, come a dire: “È libero?”.

Non ricevo risposta. Mi accomodo in fretta mentre il treno riparte. Il mio vicino di posto guarda fuori dal finestrino, e fissa l’orizzonte di case e fabbriche, anche se ha l’aria distratta. Chissà a cosa pensa. Osservo il suo profilo, dai lineamenti grossolani, le palpebre pesanti, la fronte vicina al vetro del finestrino; non vedo i suoi occhi, ne scorgo appena il contorno liquido, sempre fissi su un punto lontano. Di tanto in tanto tamburella con le dita di una mano su un ginocchio: sono mani ruvide, sotto le unghie colgo un velo di sudiciume, dovuto alla distrazione di chi non ha tempo per sé e per i piccoli dettagli perché troppo impegnato a concentrarsi su altro.

Il treno a volte sobbalza, si ferma per far scendere dei passeggeri e caricarne altri, poi riparte. Il mio compagno di viaggio rimane impassibile; siamo seduti nell’ultimo posto dell’ultima carrozza del treno: alle nostre spalle si svolge il tramestio di pendolari che salgono, cercano ed occupano i posti a sedere, rumore concitato di voci, commenti, discussioni sommarie, che a lui non interessano minimamente. Il suo atteggiamento mi scoraggia dall’intavolare una discussione su argomenti comuni, come il tempo, le notizie del giornale che ho in mano e a cui ho appena dato una scorsa. Socchiudo gli occhi mentre il treno prosegue il viaggio.

Siamo giunti nella stazione di arrivo, il capolinea. Lui è ancora seduto accanto a me, adesso dovrà sicuramente scendere. Ho un po’ di fretta e mi alzo in piedi prima che il treno arresti la sua marcia. Gli rivolgo un rapido e formale cenno di saluto, che non riceve, come prevedevo, alcuna risposta. Sono in fila tra gli altri pendolari, in attesa di scendere dal treno. Con la coda dell’occhio vedo che lui si alza e si prepara per scendere, esita un attimo come se cercasse qualcosa. Poi si china appoggiandosi al bracciolo del sedile e prende qualcosa che era scivolato a terra. È un bastone. Il cieco tasta il pavimento intorno a sé con circospezione, lo sguardo ancora fisso verso un orizzonte indefinito, ed esitante si avvia verso l’uscita.