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The Other Language Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 8, 2014
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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.
*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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Top Customer Reviews
Change can be difficult to deal with, and how we handle it defines us as a person. Whether it's a change in a relationship, career, location, age, even the death of a loved one, change is often unexpected and it can produce some tumultuous results.
The characters in Francesca Marciano's story collection, The Other Language, are all facing change of one sort or another. Marciano's stories take place in foreign countries—Italy, Greece, Tanzania, Kenya, India—but although the settings may be different from what we're used to, the themes are universal and many of the characters' struggles will seem familiar.
In "Roman Romance," an Italian woman deals with the return of an old boyfriend, who is now an iconic rock star—and must continue to confront people's suspicions that one of his most famous songs is about her. "Chanel" follows a filmmaker and her best friend/roommate as they struggle with the end of their relationship, which culminates with her buying a Chanel dress for a film awards show, although she cannot afford it. In "The Presence of Men," a woman's difficulties becoming acclimated in the small Italian village she has moved to becomes more complicated with the arrival of her film agent brother and one of his most famous clients. The long-married characters in "An Indian Soiree" find their relationship tested by dreams of past loves and the promise of new ones. And in the moving title story, three children on the cusp of adolescence spend two summers on a Greek island following the death of their mother, which changes their relationship with their father, even as they are trying to figure out who they are as individuals.
I thought this was a really terrific collection. I enjoyed all nine stories tremendously, and thought Marciano created such vivid, complex, and emotionally rich characters. And honestly, there's something about the locations of these stories, and the fact that the majority of the characters were foreign, that made them just a little more exotic and intriguing, even as they were dealing with familiar feelings and crises.
These stories are at times funny, at times poignant, and all tremendously interesting. I've never read anything by Marciano before but I'm definitely interested now, as this collection really showed off her talents. Definitely pick this one up—and I would be surprised if you don't want to travel after you read these stories, as I'm totally jonesing to go to Italy now...
The Other Language is a wonderful collection that transports you to a different time and place with each chapter. The voice is always female, but the time, place and experience places you in a very different world each time. The exotic locales and different timeframes keep it interesting. I was totaly absorbed with each character and felt I had witnessed a little peak into the protagonists life.
I am looking forward to reading more from this author. She is able to nail her characters, find an authentic voice and create the world she lives in with elegance and grace. I left each chapter wanting more.
I was sorry to come to the end of the last story. This is a book I will reread, as I do Ann Beattie and John Updike.