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The Other Language Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 8, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Conversation with Francesca Marciano

What does your title refer to or signify, and why is this the title of your collection?

The Other Language is also the title of the first story of the collection, in which a 12-year-old Italian girl from Rome, in the wake of her mother’s sudden death, falls in love with an English boy with whom she longs to communicate. So she decides to learn his language because she loves him, but also because “one of the many ways to survive the pain buried inside her was to become an entirely different person.” She’s looking, too, for a change in herself. All these stories are in different ways stories about change: transitions—displacements— not only geographical, but emotional as well.

What is your experience with “other languages”? What, do you think, happens to you when you speak a language not your native one?

The book’s epigraph is from a Derek Walcott poem: “To change your language you must change your life.” Learning a new language is an act of transformation; it means delving into another logic, a new mental construct. We become different people when we speak another language, and that can be exciting, rejuvenating—but often frightening, a bit like walking in the dark. In some way by speaking a new language we commit an act of betrayal towards our mother tongue, our past identity. But we also sometimes can, in moving beyond our comfort zones, find a new kind of freedom, and I think a writer can find great freedom in a language that is not his or her own.

Why, as a native Italian speaker, do you write your novels in English?

I lived for many years in the States and then in Kenya, so and I have spent half of my adult life speaking English; it has never abandoned me, not even now that I’ve gone back to live in Italy. It has become my truest voice on the page; it allows me to express myself without the constraints and the inhibitions of my native language. I love how direct and concise English can be, compared with the richly convoluted, often ambiguous baroque of Italian. Plus, humor in English is somehow unbeatable.

All of the stories in this collection involve some sort of travel and going to spaces out of one’s element where one is a stranger/foreigner. Why do you write so much about travelling and feature so many travelers as protagonists?

My life has been quite nomadic, and I find it difficult to call any place “home.” Since I was a child I dreamed of going to live in faraway, exotic places, and that wanderlust, which is also maybe a kind of malaise, still affects me today. Being unmoored from the familiar brings an edge, a sense of vulnerability—which is a feeling I treasure. It’s an excellent state for a writer to be in, as he or she creates something new. And a wonderful feeling to explore.

What is your favorite place to travel? To live?

I live in Rome now, and I have a love/hate relationship with it. More love than hate, I’ll admit. I’ve lived in New York, too, when I was young, and spent quite a lot of time there. But I left my heart in Kenya and fell in love with New Mexico, where I lived for a short time in my mid-forties, and where I return as often as I can. Nature and wide-open spaces play a very important role for me. I can’t bear to have my feet walking on concrete for too long.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In her first book of short stories, following three novels, Marciano (The End of Manners, 2008) portrays women confronted by radical change or an old flame, most often while far from home. Clothes take on immense psychological power, and islands and remote villages become places of abrupt metamorphosis. In The Presence of Men, newly divorced Lara moves to an ancient Italian village, inadvertently causing havoc in the settled life of a gifted seamstress when Lara’s Hollywood brother arrives for a visit along with a tabloid-famous American movie star. A stretched-thin marriage finally unravels during a seductive sojourn in India. A struggling documentary filmmaker acquires an exceptionally beautiful, even magical dress. In the title story, newly motherless, young Emma of Rome is brought to a Greek island for the summer, where her coming-of-age is precipitously accelerated by the company of two alluring English boys. In each transfixing, emotionally charged, sexy, piquantly funny, and perfectly rendered story, Marciano makes you feel the heat of the sun, the shiver of shadow, and the shock of unforeseen lust and loss. As she dramatizes with spellbinding command the revelations of displacement, the aphrodisiac power of fame, and the slipperiness of love and authenticity, you can’t bear to finish Marciano’s superlative stories, even though you can’t wait to find out what happens. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307908364
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307908360
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #632,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Nathan Webster TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I would not have expected to give five stars to a short story collection where my favorite chapter involved an unworn Chanel dress, and yet here we are.

This book will probably never be a bestseller. It's the kind of quiet narrative that might escape most major notice - but for those who do find it, however that happens, I think you'll feel yourself a participant in an unexpected club. Myself, I was mildly curious about the travel/overseas focus of the short stories and thought it would be an interesting narrative, if nothing especially memorable.

Instead, this collection has stuck with me in way I didn't anticipate. Each of the stories resonated with me for different reasons. It was not just because I had experienced similar situations, but that the emotions of Marciano's characters reflected such heartbreakingly familiar vibrations. It might be nostalgia from an object, like in "Chanel," or from a relationship, like "Roman Romance." In both these stories, she takes what starts as a conventional premise and layers detail upon detail over the character's emotions - never melodramatic, she plays each narrative entirely straightforward. Never is there a demand for the reader's emotion that the situation of the characters doesn't call for - but that deceptive simpleness is what most cuts to this reader's core.

Each story works on different levels. I'm used to short story collections where about 25 percent of the collection doesn't work for me, but in this case I could not pick out any story that I didn't enjoy. In only one story is there a strong off-note: an assault that doesn't seem as serious as it seems the situation should have called for. And in a couple cases the story's narrator is a little whiny - but that does reflect the personality of the character.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Trudie Barreras VINE VOICE on March 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One tends to forget - at least, I do - how delightful short stories can be. Actually, I think that some of Marciano's narratives in "The Other Language" might more easily classify as novelettes, both by reason of length and also in terms of character development and time-span. In any event, this book provides a wealth of variety and insight, as well as atmosphere and descriptiveness. Although all the stories stand alone, and are completely unrelated in terms of locale and circumstance, they do carry a powerful theme of the milestones and crises that the reader recognizes as universal.

For those who are naturally drawn to the short-story format, this book should be absolutely satisfying; for those who would like to rediscover a book that can be picked up for an evening or a leisure afternoon, then put down again for another opportunity without fear of losing the thread of a longer narrative, it could be a real find. Francesca Marciano has a strong yet sensitive voice with myriad nuances.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I feel as if I just discovered another goddess of the short story genre. Francesca Marciano's nine stories are so beautifully realized, so breathtaking in their scope, that I lost track of time while under their spell.

"After seven years of European life, she found herself smiling at the predicament she'd found herself in. It was a reminder that there were still places in the world where one could vanish, be lost, be found and rescued by strangers," Ms. Marciano writes in one of her stories.

Indeed, each one is, in its own way, a study of reinvention: of suddenly becoming visible or invisible, of uncovering elusive truths in exotic locales, of turning one's back on a tedious past, of recognizing the person one was meant to be.

In the Presence of Men - perhaps my favorite of the collection - a divorced woman named Lara attempts to reinvent herself in a charming and innocent Italian village. There she befriends an older woman, an extraordinary local seamstress. Yet when her brother arrives in town, accompanied by a famous actor, the ragged seams of the unspoiled town begin to reveal itself.

In another, Indian Soiree, an unmoored writer and his dissatisfied wife travel to India, where both begin to question the solidarity and trust of their relationship and who they really are. "The feeling they both had was of a tidal wave that kept gaining speed and had crashed upon them before they could take cover," the author writes,''

And, in the eponymous story, The Other Language, three young children travel from Rome to Greece with their father after the sudden death of their mother. "It impressed the children and seemed to cheer them up as if this time of greatest loss would coincide with the promise of a richer and more exciting lie.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mary Lins TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
“The Other Language”, is a set of nine wonderful short stories by Francesca Marciano, some that are really too long to be called short stories and too short to be called novellas – which is to say that they are “just right”!

The title story involves a young girl named Emma, whose father has taken her and her siblings to a small Greek island the summer after their mother’s untimely death. It’s a poignant story of youth and grief and a tale of budding sexuality, and also a disturbing one.

“Chanel” is about a dress. I loved this story, for who hasn’t wanted something material solely for its beauty and how it makes one feel to own it – even if it’s practically foolish to purchase it?

In “An Indian Soirée”, a long-married couple are visiting India. They have very different temperaments and very different points of view and they are both deceiving each other. It was very interesting to read what happens to their marriage as a result.

One story surprisingly highlights the apartheid and marginalization experienced by a Scottish woman who married an Indian man and moved with him to Kenya.

“Quantum Theory” is a wonderfully poignant story about two people who meet in very unlikely places and in unlikely ways over the space of many years. Is their relationship “destiny” or forever missed opportunities?

All the stories in this collection have at least at touch of the Italian to them, as Marciano is presumably Italian (she lives in Rome), none more so than “The Italian System”, which is about a Roman transplanted in New York and explores the way that foreigners always remain somewhat un-assimilated and nostalgic for their “homeland” even if they perceive their homeland in ways that do not match reality.

Marciano’s stories took me places I’ve never been before; a remote island near east Africa, Greece, India, Kenya…and into unique characters and relationships as well. I recommend this to short story lovers!
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