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Book Review: Trust by Domenico Starnone

Trust by Domenico Starnone is the second of a handful of short books that I picked up at the local library (the first was Comfort Me with Apples).

Publisher’s Blurb

Pietro and Teresa’s love affair is tempestuous and passionate. After yet another terrible argument, she gets an idea: they should tell each other something they’ve never told another person, something they’re too ashamed to tell anyone. They will hear the other’s confessions without judgment and with love in their hearts. In this way, Teresa thinks, they will remain united forever, more intimately connected than ever.

A few days after sharing their shameful secrets, they break up. Not long after, Pietro meets Nadia, falls in love, and proposes. But the shadow of the secret he confessed to Teresa haunts him, and Teresa herself periodically reappears, standing at the crossroads, it seems, of every major moment in his life. Or is it he who seeks her out?

Starnone is a master storyteller and a novelist of the highest order. His gaze is trained unwaveringly on the fault lines in our public personas and the complexities of our private selves. Trust asks how much we are willing to bend to show the world our best side, knowing full well that when we are at our most vulnerable we are also at our most dangerous.

My take

Like the Valente novella, Trust is a short work of fiction that I enjoyed but wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it.

The kernel at the heart of the story is the secret shared between Pietro and Teresa. Never revealed, but a thread woven through the entire story. Sometimes the tensions builds and it feels like everything will come crashing down but it never quite does.

I enjoyed the story as a mediation on the way we create stories and perceptions of ourselves and our lives, about who we are and why we do what we do, etc. At the heart of the story is the idea that shared risk can bind people together but also push them apart. There is a sort of magnet effect of both attraction and repulsion and love is the wrestling with this effect.

But I also felt like there was a layer or level or the story or writing that I was missing. Particularly after reading the afterward by Jhumpa Lahiri which is really a musing on language and translation.

A Man by Keiichirō Hirano

An interesting but disjointed and convoluted Japanese mystery in translation

As is all too typical these days, I can’t recall why I had A Man on my To Be Read list. Perhaps it was because the author is Japan’s award-winning literary sensation” and this is first novel to be translated into English. But for whatever reason the $1.99 Kindle price was right and I added the Audible version for a few dollars more.

Akira Kido is a divorce attorney whose own marriage is in danger of being destroyed by emotional disconnect. With a midlife crisis looming, Kido’s life is upended by the reemergence of a former client, Rié Takemoto. She wants Kido to investigate a dead man—her recently deceased husband, Daisuké. Upon his death she discovered that he’d been living a lie. His name, his past, his entire identity belonged to someone else, a total stranger. The investigation draws Kido into two intriguing mysteries: finding out who Rié’s husband really was and discovering more about the man he pretended to be. Soon, with each new revelation, Kido will come to share the obsession with—and the lure of—erasing one life to create a new one.

Because I purchased both the ebook and audiobook, this was another book that I both read and listened to at different times. I do this sometimes when I am juggling multiple books and employing strategies to maximise the books I finish (I was trying to read 100 in a year in 2020).

And that may have played a role in why I found it interesting but rather disjointed and/or convoluted. It seemed to meander and jump around and as a result left me rather confused as to what it was all about.

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

We are continuing our little tour of books I read through some sort of odd or serendipitous circumstance.

I stumbled on The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri (Stephen Sartarelliin, translator) in a rather odd way. My wife’s book club was going to read a book with the title “The Shape of Water.” I was told it was not the book that corresponds to the movie so I thought it was the first book in the Commissario Montalbano series. And it was available on Kindle for $2 so I bought it for my wife.

Turns out it was the book by Anne Spollen. I decided to read this Inspector Montalbano mystery anyways.

The Shape of Water Book Cover
The Shape of Water Commissario Montalbano Mystery Penguin Books Kindle 244 Amazon

Andrea Camilleri’s novels starring Inspector Montalbano have become an international sensation and have been translated from Italian into eight languages, ranging from Dutch to Japanese. The Shape of Water is the first book in this sly, witty, and engaging series with its sardonic take on Sicilian life. Early one morning, Silvio Lupanello, a big shot in the village of Vigàta, is found dead in his car with his pants around his knees. The car happens to be parked in a rough part of town frequented by prostitutes and drug dealers, and as the news of his death spreads, the rumors begin. Enter Inspector Salvo Montalbano, Vigàta’s most respected detective. With his characteristic mix of humor, cynicism, compassion, and love of good food, Montalbano goes into battle against the powerful and the corrupt who are determined to block his path to the real killer. This funny and fast-paced Sicilian page-turner will be a delicious discovery for mystery afficionados and fiction lovers alike.

Quick verdict: It was entertaining but not really my style. 1) I am not a big mystery/crime reader and 2) was rather put off by the vulgarity (if that is the right word) of much of the plot. It was well done and evokes the time and place well. But just not my style.

Kirkus is full of praise:

Subtle, sardonic, and molto simpatico: Montalbano is the Latin re-creation of Philip Marlowe, working in a place that manages to be both more and less civilized than Chandler’s Los Angeles.

Publishers Weekly, less so:

Camilleri’s strength lies in his gallery of eccentric characters: Signora Luparello, the victim’s admirably cool widow; Gegè, a pimp and old classmate of Montalbano’s; Giosue Contino, an 82-year-old schoolteacher who shoots at people because he thinks his 80-year-old wife is cheating on him; and Anna Ferrara, Montalbano’s attractive deputy, “who every now and then, for whatever reason, would try to seduce him.” Even the two garbage men have Ph.D.s. The maverick Montalbano doesn’t hesitate to destroy clues or extract money from a crook to help a child, but his wrapping up the case by telling rather than showing, while acceptable to European audiences, may disappoint action-oriented American fans.

I think this is the sort of book you have to be in the mood for. The humor just didn’t resonate with me and none of the characters really struck me.  Perhaps, I should read the second book in the series, The Terra-Cotta Dog, as series often get better as they go.  But on the other hand, perhaps this is just not my kind of novel

A Long Way Off by Pascal Garnier

In another stroke of luck, I was looking for something short and interesting to read and grabbed A Long Way Off by Pascal Garnier [Emily Boyce, Translator] from the TBR pile. It turns out the release date was yesterday. So despite not necessarily being a book I would recommend for #StayAtHomeAndRead, I figured I would offer a quick review here.

Publishers Description:

Marc dreams of going somewhere far, far away – but he’ll start by taking his cat and his grown-up daughter, Anne, to an out-of-season resort on the Channel.

Reluctant to go home, the curious threesome head south for Agen, whose main claim to fame is its prunes. As their impromptu road trip takes ever stranger turns, the trail of destruction – and mysterious disappearances – mounts up in their wake.

Shocking, hilarious and poignant, the final dose of French noir from Pascal Garnier, published shortly before his death, is the author on top form.

Having read The Panda Theory I guess I should have expected odd, black humor. After all here is what I wrote about that book:

What an odd little book. Bills itself as noir but veers close to black comedy. It is French so perhaps I should have expected weird … :-)

Ditto for this book. It was a very odd atmospheric road trip.

Cover of Job by Edward L Greenstein

Job: A New Translation by Edward L. Greenstein

I will admit I bit off more than I could chew with Job: A New Translation by Edward L. Greenstein.

The book of Job has often been called the greatest poem ever written. The book, in Edward Greenstein’s characterization, is “a Wunderkind, a genius emerging out of the confluence of two literary streams” which “dazzles like Shakespeare with unrivaled vocabulary and a penchant for linguistic innovation.” Despite the text’s literary prestige and cultural prominence, no English translation has come close to conveying the proper sense of the original. The book has consequently been misunderstood in innumerable details and in its main themes.
Edward Greenstein’s new translation of Job is the culmination of decades of intensive research and painstaking philological and literary analysis, offering a major reinterpretation of this canonical text. Through his beautifully rendered translation and insightful introduction and commentary, Greenstein presents a new perspective: Job, he shows, was defiant of God until the end. The book is more about speaking truth to power than the problem of unjust suffering.

Hard Cover Front Piece

I lack the knowledge to truly judge the translation and while the issues raised were in some ways fascinating, I really only finished it because I had invested time and energy in reading half of it. It is a provocative book by an eminent scholar but I think the line between scholar and educated lay person is a tricky one.

However, the meanings of many words and expressions in Job are based on guesswork. One if often hard pressed to reconcile the language and translations with the traditional Hebrew text. There is no delicate way to put it: much of what has passed as translation of Job is facile and fudged. Translators have for the most part recycled interpretations that had been adopted earlier, dispensing with the painstaking work of original philological investigation that might lead to new and proper understandings. Modern commentators have made use of the ancient translations, but these were themselves all too often in a quandary. Accordingly, traditional interpretations have often held sway, and translators have usually followed suit, imposing their notions of what the book is presumed to be saying on their largely unsuspecting audiences.

Introduction, xviii

I found the translation readable and the introduction thought provoking but I was constantly distracted by the footnotes and a sense that Greenstein was flipping the understanding of Job on its head and I was in no position to judge the result in any definitive way absent significant study and reading.

Consequently, Job is parodying God, not showing him respect. If God is all about power and not morality and justice, Job will not condone it through acceptance. This response may not accord with the image of pious, Bontshe the Silent-type Job that most interpreters have wanted to find in this biblical book. However, Job’s defiance, a product of absolute integrity, is not the only radical or surprising feature of the book in the read presented and defended here.

Introduction, xxxi

If you are a person of faith or have an interest in the theological ramifications of the book of Job, to read it is to wrestle not with the challenges of translation but with the nature of faith and of scripture.

Gloria Dei est vivens homo, wrote Saint Irenaeus: The glory of God is a living man. Might not the Author of Life look with favor upon this brilliantly resistant creature, this unappeasable critical thinker, this supremely lonely and dissenting figure, this Bartleby with boils—unswayed by the sublime, scratching his scabs in the land of Uz? That might be the rankest heresy: Let me know, bishops. But consider what Greenstein’s nonpenitent, polarity-reversed Job has done to the ending of the book. As before, with the experiment over, Job is blandly restored to a state of health and wealth; as before, God upbraids the sententious friends, the Bildads and the Eliphazes and the Zophars, and sends them off to make some burnt offerings, “for you did not speak about me in honesty as did my servant Job.” The quality or valence of this honesty, however, has turned upside down. It has become a kind of white-knuckle existential tenacity, a refusal to disown oneself even in the teeth of the windstorm. Maybe that’s what this God, faced with this Job, is telling us: Bring it all before him, the full grievance of your humanity. Bring him your condition, loudly. Let him have it.

James Parker’s review in The Atlantic

This review by Patrick T. Reardon is a good place to start to get a sense of the challenge and the consequences.

Greenstein’s Job is a bold, highly original challenge to centuries, if not millenniums, of scholarship and theology.  It is a no-holds-barred assertion of a new way of looking at Job, the honest, upright gentile who, in the biblical book, is afflicted with waves of misery from God and asks the Deity: Why me?

As with so much when it comes to reading, your mileage may vary but if you like challenging approaches to scripture this is that. the very least you understand the immense challenges involved in translating a work such as Job.

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