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Things That Happened Before the Earthquake: A Novel Hardcover – August 15, 2017
An Amazon Book with Buzz: "Sweet Sorrow" by David Nicholls
"With fully fleshed-out characters, terrific dialogue, bountiful humor, and genuinely affecting scenes, this is really the full package of a rewarding, romantic read."—Booklist Learn more
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—New York Times
“Chiara Barzini writes with a voice that is both tense and open. The effect is surprising, subversive, and singular."
—Jhumpa Lahiri, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Interpreter of Maladies
"Chiara Barzini has pulled off that most dazzling balancing act: combining a deliciously entertaining plot with effortlessly elegant prose. She has an extraordinarily keen eye for cultural nuance. Through her alter-ego Eugenia we come to discover a California as wildly foreign to us as it is to her. A brilliant, sexy, and unexpected take on the immigrant bildungsroman.”
—Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go
“Chiara Barzini has written a wild first novel, full of sex, violence, and desperate prayers to the Virgin Mary. This is a brutal and bizarre coming of age story aptly set in one of America’s many crises.”
—Catherine Lacey, author of Nobody is Ever Missing
"Chiara Barzini has the heart and the capacity to tell a story that is bright on the surface and profound on the inside."
—Francesca Marciano, author of The Other Language
"Tectonic plates collide in this book: a girl lands on this continent with both feet planted in a pair of Reebok Pumps and the bared Italian bust and out-thrust tongue meet the buttoned-up American mind head-on. Our author shows us that there’s an America that’s bigger than the narrow confines this young Italian, our protagonist, confronts at her Los Angeles high school—and she discovers it in the body, in the spirit and in our land itself. Zany, rambunctious and deftly told, in this coming-of-age story the heroine is the earthquake."
—Atticus Lish, author of Preparation for the Next Life
"There are sex and drugs aplenty but also sweet, tender moments of first love and self-acceptance. Los Angeles is dirtily yet lovingly depicted… Barzini’s is an impressive debut with a distinct point of view.”
"If you're an Elena Ferrante fan, tuck into Things That Happened Before the Earthquake, a coming-of-age novel. Eugenia, a Roman teenager, is plucked from her home by her filmmaker parents; they head for Los Angeles and the lights of Hollywood, just weeks after the 1992 riots. As an expat myself, I can't wait to immerse myself in a raw, sensuous tale of two cities. Barzini is a filmmaker, so I know this book will take a cinematic view of the sexy, dirty business of becoming an adult."
- Estelle Tang, ELLE.com Culture Editor
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If you like a good high school tale, especially one about the miserable San Fernando Valley then this book is for you. The Valley sucks, it's filled with a bizarre form of idiocy. Chiara captures that idiocy perfectly. She also describes the time period really well yet doesn't try to impress you with cute details. This is not a story of someone on the inside yet the main character Eugenia isn't the ultimate outsider either. That's the book's greatest strength, the restraint the author shows. Eugenia is just a young lady in a really weird place trying to figure it out. She's not some LA teen know-it-all who is also world-weary. She makes decisions the way a teenager does. Abbondanza as Mama Celeste would say!
Ettore packs up his family and says 'Californy is the place we ought to be' so he loads up his bags… for Los Angeles. Swimmin' pools, movie stars. But instead they get, the Valley, illegal nude sunbathing (when not in Rome), and the promise of real actors who will star in his horror films that he is hoping will help make him bigtime. The life they leave behind in Italy is quite different from the one they are welcomed to in the United States.
The protagonist, Eugenia, Ettore’s daughter, is entering high school and must find her way in a large public school where nobody is welcoming, she is treated like a full-on outcast from day one and is pretty sure that she needs to go back home to Rome stat. Transformations happen for everyone in the family. Eugenia keeps all that is happening to her and around her all to herself.
This is a story about belonging, going home and not belonging, adapting, coming of age, trust, and love. A true metaphor for the undercurrent of what was happening around the country that rocked the city of Los Angeles as a result of the riots post acquittal of the LAPD officers in the beating of Rodney King and then the earthquake, Barzini provides numerous cracks in the foundation of each of the character’s lives leading up to the big rumble. And, let’s not forget, the trial of the century, post white Bronco chase just a couple of years later.
Eugenia prays to Mary and her asks are simple. One of my favorite prayers is the one where she asks Mary for forgiveness. Forgiveness for wanting to leave ‘this country’ to go back home to Italy.
“I know you were a teenager when you had Jesus so you must know what it feels like to be handed a situation that is unmanageable. You might think giving birth to the son of God is more traumatic than living in Van Nuys, but I think that’s because when you were alive you never visited the San Fernando Valley. It’s easier to be a virgin who gives birth than to be an Italian who lives on Victory and Sepulveda. Amen.”