by Domenico Starnone (Lacci, 2014)
translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri (2017)
Europa Editions (2017)
150 pp

Okay, I admit to being drawn to this title primarily because it was translated by Jhumpa Lahiri, an author I have admired a great deal who recently took to Italy and Italian and, obviously, translation. I enjoy her work, I enjoy her perspective, I hoped to enjoy her taste and her abilities to present something she loves to me in English. Knowing nothing else about the book, I began Domenico Starnone’s Ties. I’m so glad I did.

Ties is organized into three parts. Part One is a series of letters from a wife to the husband who has abandoned her and her two children in order to seek whatever he thinks his true passion in life is. In this case, a young woman, a nineteen-year-young woman, to his thirty four years. The letters begin with pleading. Apparently the husband has only recently strayed, and the wife is hoping he’ll return soon:

Enough, sorry, I’m going overboard. I know you, I know you’re a decent person. But please, as soon as you read this letter, come home. Or, if you still aren’t up to it, write to me and explain what you’re going through.

However, as the letters go on, they understandably become angrier, less interested in making up, more interested in punishing, if possible, in making him feel the pain he’s caused. Finally, we get to the final letters. It’s apparent that a few years have passed. The children are older now, and he’s given up custody. Nevertheless, he wants to meet them again: “They’re crushed by uncertainty and fear. Don’t make it worse for them,” she says.

Nevertheless, when Part Two begins we suddenly find the husband and wife back together. What we get now is a portrait of the couple a few decades removed from this period of pain and bitterness. Here we learn the characters’ names: Vanda is the wife, and her husband is Aldo. This part, though not told in letters, is told from the perspective of Aldo. They’re in their seventies, now. They’ve been married for 52 years, and here we find them one day, their reunion taken for granted, their marriage built on routine. But is there trust?

The remainder of the second part explores how, decades later, those years of infidelity and grief still flow underneath it all. It can still be a source of pain, and it can still be used as a weapon. In Part Three, we hear from the two children, now late in life themselves, also still feeling the effects of this strange family they’re tied to.

And I think that’s where Ties really excels. I think the writing is great, and it flows nicely through its scenes, but the power is in its exploration of intimacy — all the trust, the fear, the hope — when it’s under siege, when those closest to us have the ability to cause us the most pain, and they’re doing it.

Ties is a short book, and its pages speed past quickly, the emotions of each character nicely developed, the characters unlikeable but recognizable and all too human. If you’re a fan of Lahiri’s brilliant story “A Temporary Matter,” be prepared for some of the same painful glimpse at broken hearts.

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By |2017-08-02T16:57:10-04:00August 1st, 2017|Categories: Book Reviews, Domenico Starnone|Tags: , , |9 Comments


  1. Claire 'Word by Word' August 1, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Have you read Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment? It’s the perfect complement to this book – they read together like his story and her story.

  2. Trevor Berrett August 1, 2017 at 11:13 am

    I have! It’s my favorite of her books (didn’t make it through all of the My Brilliant Friend ones yet). Thanks for the connection!

  3. fulcherkim August 1, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    I was actually going to congratulate you for writing a review without mentioning the connection, given the controversy over the alleged outing of Ferrante!

  4. Dennis Lang August 3, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Another terrific tip, Trevor! As someone reading a lot less for pleasure these days than in my youth, really value your suggestions–always in context of your thoughtful reviews. Nail it each time!
    Just started “Ties”. Fascinating in subject and style.

  5. Trevor Berrett August 3, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    Oh, good, Dennis! Please let me know how you like it when you’re finished. I’d love your thoughts!

  6. Trevor Berrett August 3, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Ha, Paul, I missed your comment earlier I guess! Yeah, I did my best to avoid making this click-bait.

  7. Dennis Lang August 12, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Just incredibly intense! Others can analyze how the choice of language, the structure, rhythm, momentum of it, how these converging first-person, occasionally gut-wrenching perspectives, envelope us in the experience of the characters over a period of decades. I have no idea how he did it. But he did. Deserves a closer second reading for sure.
    Breath-taking from page one to its conclusion 150 pages later.

  8. Trevor Berrett August 12, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks so much for coming back to share your thoughts, Dennis, and I’m so glad the recommendation payed off!

  9. David September 17, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    This is an exceptionally good novel. I know (from reading his Wikipedia page) that Starnone has written adaptations of a couple of his previous novels for films, but I do not think I have ever read a novel that seems to more naturally be perfect to be adapted to the stage. It already is constructed in three clear acts, but it also is easy to see how it could be done with just a cast of seven actors and few sets. Any theatrical producer who happens to read this blog should give Starnone a call. And if that does happen one day, remember you heard it here first!

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