“The Other Language” stories by Francesca Marciano (2014) – 287 pages
In ‘The Other Language’, Italian author Francesca Marciano has written nine exhilarating stories that capture the mystery, humor, despair, and romance of lives lived. Each of these stories sets you down in a person’s circumstances so effectively that for a short time you become that person and see the world through their eyes.
This is the first book I’ve read by Francesca Marciano, but I will definitely read more. There are not many writers beyond Alice Munro who can successfully write the sustained short story of fifty pages or so. Now we can add Francesca Marciano to that short list.
Alice Munro usually sticks fairly close to her Canadian home in her stories, while Marciano’s characters travel the world over. Stories in ‘The Other Language’ take place in Greece, Tanzania and other parts of Africa, India, and New York. What the two writers Munro and Marciano do have in common is the ability to get the reader fully engaged in the lives of their characters.
Perhaps my favorite story in ‘The Other Language’ is called ‘An Indian Soirée’. In this story a husband and wife travel to India. He had been to India before, and enjoyed playing the India expert for decades. His wife had never been to India before, and she loved everything she saw unconditionally.
“He only wished she had stuck to wearing her own clothes instead of those Indian clothes that were slowly multiplying inside the suitcase, which she didn’t know how to wear.”
From this vague dissatisfaction, their marriage breaks down. The criticized wife starts having intense dreams about a previous boyfriend, while the husband becomes entranced by a real Indian woman, a dance instructor.
“It took a surprisingly short time for sixteen years of marriage to come undone. Later, neither one of them was able to recollect how the sequence had unfolded – which phrase had prompted the next, nor how it had been possible that a mild irritation, an unpleasant remark, had revealed truths that had seemed impossible to reveal until this moment.“
Neither the husband nor wife views their marriage falling apart as a tragedy but rather as the bittersweet result of a strange dream, a strange Indian dream.
All of the stories in this collection are strong and memorable. They are usually written from a woman’s point of view, but I did not have any trouble relating to them at all. Most of the stories are told from the point of view of a woman looking back at an earlier episode and fitting it into the rest of her life, what she learned about herself from it, what she didn’t learn.
It has been quite a long while since I have read a story collection that is as smart, engaging, and satisfying as “The Other Language”.