Almost like a detective, the reader must try to puzzle out what has happened, what relationship X "really" has to Y. In "Dolores Ibarruri Sheds Bitter Tears," is the mother's report of her son's happy childhood just a remembered mirage? Is life inside a Fitzgerald novel a game invented by the narrator of "The Little Gatsby," or has the game indeed replaced any other reality? From the title story "Letter from Casablanca," with its double and triple inversions of our expectations, to the final thoughts of "The Backwards Game," where the author plays with the idea of reversing life and literature, the haunting theme of this remarkable and rewarding debut is: "Reality is unpleasant and you prefer dreams"--but modified in teasing counterpoint by the observation that "sometimes reality surpasses the imagination." The author implies that many of the stories are "true," but it is the reflecting and refining power of art and language which focuses seemingly random events into patterns of inevitability.
Eight polished and elegantly elusive stories by an Italian novelist not translated here before. The stories frequently have literary matrices - echoings of Conrad, Fitzgerald, Pessoa - or at the very least ones based in artifice and concept. In "The Little Gatsby," a failed novelist entertains friends with memorized chunks of Tender Is The Night, while everyone is unconscious of the sad futility that underlies the game. An Italian literato smuggles in money to oppressed Portuguese writers of the Salazar era, in "The Backwards Game," never suspecting he's serving as the silvered back of the mirror in an elaborate lie about need and art. In "Heavenly Bliss" - the strongest story of all - a young woman is hired as an "artistic secretary" to a rich woman. She learns, among other recondite skills, ikebana - Japanese flower arrangement - and the courtly savvy appropriate to such refined tastes. But she has no idea of how far in over her head she really is, despite taste, until she participates in a dinner party where her employer's husband's business talk alludes to the grossest illegality, immorality. Tabucchi doesn't help a reader along; ambiguous situations are the very blood in these pieces, which yet are just sound enough to keep the what's-going-on? out of reach without being arrogantly so. Well-rendered into English by Janice M. Thresher, these short pieces whet an appetite for Tabucchi's novels as well. Bring them on. (Kirkus Reviews)