Every Promise by Andrea Bajani

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Every Promise by Andrea Bajani

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Unflinching in emotion, this is an intelligent but slow-paced read about coming to terms with the past and male vulnerability.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 219 Date: June 2013
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 978-0857051462

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Italian writer, Andrea Bajani's Every Promise is narrated by Pietro. His partner, Sara, has left him due to their inability to have a baby, but soon she finds herself pregnant after a one night stand and reliant on Pietro's mother for advice. Meanwhile Pietro meets Olmo, an elderly man who lives in their old family apartment, who reminds Pietro of his own Grandfather, Mario, who, like Olmo, served in Mussolini's ill-fated Russian campaign. Olmo persuades Pietro to go to Russia to visit the scenes of some of the photographs he has to try to come to terms with the past. It's a story about the past, the present and the future and the struggle for one man to make sense of this. It's packed with surpassingly detailed imagery and Bajani is at times breathtakingly unflinching in exposing the vulnerability of his narrator. However, it is very much a slow burn of a book and it's not always an easy book to read.

With a relatively short page count and split into more than 70 chapters, you might expect the story to fly along but it's also quite a dense read, not least as it's often hard to discern the path of the story. None of this is due to the excellent translation though by Alistair McEwan who has managed to retain a beauty to what cannot have been the easiest of translations.

It's a very hard book to summarize. It's also a book that I found myself changing my mind about while I was reading it. I was completely gripped and moved by the opening description of Pietro's vulnerably frank depiction of his relationship with Sara. So engrossed was I in this though that when Bajani moves onto the grandfather/Russian thread of the novel, which it the main part in terms of word count, this was more and more frustrating. Not just that it seemed to leave a fascinating thread dangling to a degree, with the now pregnant Sara constantly calling Pietro's mother for advice, but also that by heaping on more grim stories of the past, be that Mario's treatment by his Russian captives, the treatment of the Russians by the Italians including public hangings to the plight of the Russians Pietro meets when he visits the locations of the photographs, it seems to almost diminish each sadness in turn. For me, greater contrast would expose more of the sadness of any of these threads.

If you find slow books boring, then this is one to avoid, but Bajani's eye for detail is fascinating, as is his ability to go to the heart of the emotion. At one point, the characters are processing some photographic film and this is a strong metaphor for how the characters and stories emerge in the book. The past starts to come out as a shadow at first, and as in a photograph, the unintended detail can take the eye from the intended focus of the picture.

It's a book that I started off absolutely loving but ended up merely admiring. It is certainly an impressive and interesting piece of writing. It's a very intelligent book and one that demands you to surrender to its mood to get the best out of it.

Our grateful thanks to the kind people at MacLehose Press for sending us this book.

For more Italian fiction, check out the short story collection Outsiders by Roberto Saviano, Carlo Lucarelli, Valeria Parrella, Piero Colaprico, Wu Ming, Simona Vinci.

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Buy Every Promise by Andrea Bajani at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Every Promise by Andrea Bajani at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Every Promise by Andrea Bajani at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Every Promise by Andrea Bajani at Amazon.com.


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