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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Written, Potent, January 19, 2009
This review is from: Who's Afraid of Red: A Story Cycle in Three Parts (Paperback)
Alessandra Gelmi's Who's Afraid of Red is a good read but it is definitely a difficult book to pigeonhole. The main reason is because its three sections are almost different genres. The first part of the story focuses on introducing Sylvia, an art professor, and Leon, a former theology student turned journalist. Leon has lost his groove while Sylvia is still trying to find hers. His experience in Rwanda as a reporter two years earlier left Leon disenchanted with his faith and humanity and when he gets his opportunity to return he is urged by Sylvia to do so. It is a mission he needs to make, with or without the prodding of his lover.

During the second part of the story Leon returns to Rwanda, still reeling from its recent genocidal past to re-encounter the young woman he met before, who he impregnated and then left behind. The young daughter is not a new discovery to Leon but in a way almost the child plays the role of an incomplete memory. She was the product of a will to survive that beat in the heart of her teenaged mother who had lost everything of importance in her life: Her parents, her home, and the man who rescued her. Even her hand was taken by Hutu marauders who left her for dead under a pile of corpses. The pregnancy was intentional - to give her something to live for. It is here in Rwanda that Leon finds himself falling in love with the young mother he'd left a few years before. The only certainty that comes of his visit is that in the end he finds that it is his lot to return to America - to leave the young woman again. Before his return the poor woman is murdered by a ne'er do well Hutu which leaves Leon full on with the responsibility of the baby.

The third cycle of the book covers the private thoughts of Sylvia through entries in her diary. It describes her struggles with her Catholic faith, ponders her feelings of having an unfulfilled life both professionally and personally. Sylvia is a well educated, intelligent woman who has trouble putting her love life together. There are many open ended questions that the protagonist asks herself using her diary entries as somewhat of a cross between psychoanalysis and parables of life. Sylvia cannot grasp why true love continues to escape her in life. She feels like she has in many ways abandoned her art for the profession of art as well. She is holding out great hopes for her man to return from Rwanda with his newly found daughter yet is still uncertain about their future.

Alessandra Gelmi is a good writer. Her style is smart and polished although I did think that she used far too many French phrases for the flow of the writing to have been a normal conversation between the writer and the reader. Otherwise the book is very readable. It is a hidden pleasure for a leisurely afternoon. I hope Alessandra comes out with another novel soon. Hopefully a follow up!
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Location: Bangkok, Thailand

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