I began Francesca Marciano’s short story collection, The Other Language, on a long plane ride to see my family. As you might know, a plane ride acts as the ultimate test for a new book. It either takes you away from the stuffy air and cramped seats, or it doesn’t.
Marciano took me away.
I spent three blissful hours in her dense, richly colored world that afternoon. The settings of Marciano’s work span Italy and reference other areas of Europe constantly. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of her writing lies in her ability to make foreign landscapes both familiar and ethereal.
In the title story, a young family loses their mother and escapes to a small Greek village for the summer. Emma, the protagonist, becomes obsessed with an English family vacationing as well. Marciano’s stories weave pain and longing into the fabric of European life, and the experiences and trials of her characters ring true no matter what continent you inhabit. In The Presence of Men, a divorced woman, Lara, struggles to define herself post-marriage and moves to a small Italian village in hopes of starting fresh. The narrator brings the reader back to the moment of Lara’s marriage dissolution: “In fifteen operatic minutes on one Sunday night everything came down and shattered. Rage made them feel alive and strong, gave color to their cheeks, lit their eyes.” Marciano captures and condenses this moment with poetic grace. She shares the depths of human loneliness in order to fully draw the interconnectedness of her world.
Despite heartaches and failures, Marciano’s characters populate a beautiful macrocosm. Their human struggles echo the struggles of all people. The landscape might be rolling Tuscany hills, but the individuals remain the same, though this doesn’t dampen the mood of Marciano’s stories–it transforms them.
I read about loneliness and divorce, loss of virginity and old age. But when I set the book down, I felt elated. The juxtaposition of Marciano’s crystalline world against the darkness of the human spirit created a sense of togetherness that would follow me for days.
If all the world feels lonely at some point then none of us are. We are the same. Marciano just needed to remind us.
Photo Credit: Laura Sciacovelli