cover image If You Kept a Record of Sins

If You Kept a Record of Sins

Andrea Bajani, trans. from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris. Archipelago, $18 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-1-939810-96-0

A young man traces his mother’s footsteps toward her tragic end in Bajani’s somber and gripping tale of abandonment and exploitation (after Every Promise). Lorenzo arrives in Bucharest to handle the affairs of his recently deceased mother, Lula, who abandoned him and his stepfather years earlier. Addressed to his mother, Lorenzo’s narration interweaves the tale of his own broken home with revelations about his mother’s demise and insights into decades of oppression under the Ceaușescu regime. At a factory in Bucharest, Lorenzo meets Lula’s former lover, Anselmi, with whom Lula had partnered on a business venture involving a gimmicky weight-loss device. In flashbacks, the reader learns Lula was shunned by her parents, an early betrayal that seems to foretell her later choices. Later, when an adulterous affair results in Lorenzo’s birth, the biological father vanishes. “And so he signed his last name and left it there,” Lorenzo says of that man, “like a lizard leaves its tail and scuttles off somewhere to grow it back.” Here and throughout, family trauma parallels the collective trauma of an oppressed people, with no solace in the past and no real agency in the future. Bajani brings the full weight of his qualities as a poet, journalist, and professor of European Studies to bear, revealing in finely wrought prose the lasting scars of heartbreak on his characters and the body politic. This is deeply affecting. (Mar.)