A Music Behind the Wall: Selected Stories

Anna M. Ortese, Author, Henry Martin, Translator McPherson $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-929701-56-1
The protagonists of the nine stories collected here live in a harsh, unpredictable world made bearable by dreams and fantasies. Ortese's career, until her death last March, spanned six decades. Despite her literary prominence in her native Italy, she has gone untranslated in America, except for the first volume of her selected stories, and a novel, The Iguana (both published by McPherson). In these stories, Ortese exclusively employs the mostly unnamed first-person narrator, which lends her tales an intimate feel. In ""Redskin,"" published in 1937 when when Ortese was in her 20s, the narrator plans with her older brother to build a sailing ship so the two can travel wherever they want. Her brother is called to war and is soon killed, but the narrator's imagination keeps his memory alive. The narrator of ""The Villa,"" a writer who ""wrote books full of wonderful stories, delicate and very pure, just the way [her mother] wanted,"" buys her mother a cottage in heaven where she can speak daily with a very casual Jesus and Mary, and where she is finally reunited with her dead son. Ortese's vigorous, detail-studded prose anchors the often surreal events her characters describe. The strong spiritual faith that permeates her writing is not so much religious as pantheistic. In the final piece, an essay called ""Where Time is Another,"" Ortese shares the difficulties of her Neapolitan childhood (her formal education ended at age 13) and her life as a writer. Encouraging creativity in people, especially children, she argues from her own experience, helps them build a place ""for freedom--the suspension of pain--for elegance, for tenderness."" (May)
Reviewed on: 08/03/1998
Release date: 08/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
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