cover image Lost Words

Lost Words

Nicola Gardini, trans. from the Italian by Michael F. Moore. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2477-2

It’s the 1970s, and 13-year-old Chino spends his free time observing his mother, Elvira, who works as the doorwoman at an apartment building on the fringes of Milan, fielding requests and complaints from the elderly and fickle residents, and cleaning their messes. The pair, along with Chino’s cinema-obsessed father, reside in the building’s small servants’ lodge, and Elvira dreams of one day buying a home to escape the henpecking and chaos of her work life. When a new resident, Amelia Lynd, moves to the building, Chino’s attentions shift. He visits the older woman regularly, and soon Lynd reveals an abandoned project, an English/Italian dictionary, to the boy. Their meetings become English lessons, which Chino quickly learns. But their friendship cannot prevent tragedy from striking. As the boy and his mother weather loss—Elvira’s hope to buy a place of her own is dashed by her husband—Lynd’s son, Ippolito, arrives and lifts their spirits. Gardini crafts a shaggy novel, with amusing tangents that complement his loose narrative. An entertaining, if occasionally meandering, read. (Jan.)