cover image Like Family

Like Family

Paolo Giordano, trans. from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel. Viking/Dorman, $22 (160p) ISBN 978-0-525-42876-3

Combining the edginess of modern life with the touching theme of losing someone who has become just like family, this short novel recounts how an ordinary woman, Mrs. A.—nicknamed Babette after she insists on preparing a perfect dinner for the family that employs her (a reference to Babette’s Feast)—succumbs to cancer, leaving behind an unexpectedly rich legacy of love. Babette first comes to work for the unnamed scientist narrator and his wife, Nora, to help out during Nora’s difficult pregnancy, then stays on to become housekeeper/nanny/nurse/substitute mother/grandmother, the nucleus of this nuclear family. Babette witnesses the baby’s first steps and attends his first day of school, but her importance to each family member is appreciated only when she retires, claiming fatigue before discovering she has terminal cancer. For the family, losing this woman (who dislikes change) changes everything. The couple sees her through her illness, accompanies her to the wig maker, and sits by her bedside, even as the gap created by the husband’s detached logic and Nora’s intuitive empathy widens. Layer by layer, Giordano (The Solitude of Prime Numbers) peels back personal connections to ask: What is family? For that matter, what is love? In this case, a woman’s simple story confirms Giordano as a writer who understands contemporary science and the complexities of human relationships. (Dec.)