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Lingua Franca

I’m a strongly language-driven reader, so it was only a matter of time before I discovered the work of Diego Marani. There are undoubtedly others who write more prettily, sentence by sentence, but I’m not sure that there’s anyone else who carries language closer to the heart. In his fiction, it always assumes a central role, actually becoming character, story, and even setting. How does that alchemy work?

Well, Marani is an Italian native who lives and works in Brussels. His day job is at the European Union, dealing with issues of interpretation, so he’s a classic polyglot. In addition to Italian, he speaks French and English, translates from Finnish and Dutch, and is more than passingly acquainted with Slovenian and Spanish. While the fiction he writes in his own time isn’t overtly autobiographical, it’s clearly a transmutation of his own experiences with cultural dislocation and a sense of being adrift on a sea of half-familiar words.

New Finnish Grammar, Marani’s award-winning 2000 novel (trans. 2011 by Judith Landry), tells the story of a severely injured sailor found in Trieste in the middle of World War II. He has no memory of who he is or how he came to be there, and the only identifying information he bears is a tag on his clothing....Read More

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