Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Antonio Tabucchi's "Time Ages in a Hurry"

I am grateful to translators Martha Cooley and Antonio Romani for introducing me to the short fiction of Antonio Tabucchi. Time Ages in a Hurry collects nine stories: "The Circle," "Drip, Drop, Drippity-Drop," "Clouds," "The Dead at the Table," "Between Generals," "Yo me enamore del aire," "Festival," "Bucharest Hasn't Changed a Bit" and "Against Time." The stories are closely observed, often revolving around two people in conversation. The late Italian writer is profoundly concerned with the passing of time and its effects on memory, desire and fantasy. In the very poignant "Drip, Drop," a man waits beside his dying aunt, who has taken custody of not only him as a young boy, but also the childhood memories that he was too young to remember.

The stories do not stay in Italy but range across Europe and beyond. "The Circle" is narrated from the perspective of a woman from the Maghreb who grew up in Paris, and is now married into a rich and illustrious family of Germans, possibly Jewish, living in Geneva. "Between Generals" tell the story of the Soviet invasion of Hungary through the point of view of an Hungarian general who spent "the best days of [his] life" in Moscow with the Russian general he fought against. In "Bucharest Hasn't Changed a Bit," a son, who still lives and works in Europe, visits his senile father in Tel Aviv, who cannot forget the old family home in Bucharest.

The last story "Against Time" is, at least in part, an ars poetica, as the translators said during the book launch at the Center for Fiction, New York City. The narrator becomes a character in his own story, following the trail of his protagonist from Italy to Athens and then to Crete, to an old monastery. In an epiphany at the end, the narrator understands:

Everything changed perspective, in a flash he felt the euphoria of discovery, a subtle nausea, a mortal melancholy. But also a sense of infinite liberation, as when we finally understand something we'd known all along and didn't want to know: it wasn't the already-seen that was swallowing him a never-lived past, he instead was capturing it in a future yet to be lived. 

To write down what is first conceived in the mind is not to be sucked back into an imaginary past, but to render the story into a human future to come.

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