cover image The Hummingbird

The Hummingbird

Sandro Veronesi, trans. from the Italian by Elena Pala. HarperVia, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-315855-9

A 40-year-old ophthalmologist becomes enmeshed in a morass of family troubles and careless decisions in Veronesi’s Strega Prize–winning latest (after Quiet Chaos). In Rome at the brink of the new millennium, Marco Carrera, known by his childhood nickname “the hummingbird” for his diminutive stature, is having an affair while his wife does the same. His parents were glaringly mismatched, and his siblings, one of whom died many years earlier, are depicted through the nonlinear narrative as depressed, suicidal, or just plain estranged. Rather than marrying Luisa, Marco’s longtime love, he had opted for Marina, a flight attendant he first sees on a TV news program, during which she describes how she’d narrowly avoided a shift on an ill-fated flight. They have a daughter, but Marco endures years of disappointments and Marina’s adulterous betrayals. Meanwhile, he’s secretly struck up a correspondence with Luisa. A chaotic black comedy of blunders ensues as the narrative volleys back and forth between Carrera’s youth and the present through dashes of poetry, emails, postcards, and dialogue, while running commentary from an omnipresent third-person chimes in with penetrating insight (on relationships: “It should be common knowledge—and yet it isn’t—that the course of every new relationship is set from the start, once and for all, every time”). Cleverly structured like a jigsaw puzzle, the story’s disparate pieces are overlaid and slowly developed, such as the details of Marco’s sister’s death. A senseless tragedy, splashes of levity, and unexpected poignancy bring this to a moving conclusion. Veronesi’s dark modern chronicle shimmers with intelligence and flashes of pathos. (Jan.)