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The characters in the compelling stories novelist and screenwriter Francesca Marciano collects in The Other Language are displaced—both geographically and in matters of the heart. Mostly women, but a few men as well, they are educated, well-heeled and discontent, adrift in an ever-contracting world that has clouded the notion of home.
The title story—one of the finest—begins with an enticing Alice Munro-like premise: A 12-year-old Italian girl and her family vacation in a small Greek village in the wake of her mother’s mystery-shrouded death. There she substitutes one English brother for another as her object of affection, carrying the complicated memory through the years until adult truths clarify the meaning of the events. Another richly layered story, “The Presence of Men,” is built on a clash of cultures as a Roman woman, scarred by divorce, seeks refuge in a village in a remote corner of Italy. The inroads she makes into local acceptance are jarred when her Hollywood agent brother and his movie star client show up and upset the delicate balance. In “An Indian Soirée,” reminiscent of the atmospheric, incisive stories of the late Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a couple has come to the subcontinent for an extended sojourn, and in one the space of one morning their marriage falls apart.
A number of stories are set in Africa, where Marciano has lived. “The Club,” with the indomitable Mrs. D’Costa at its center, quietly explores class and race in post-colonial Kenya. “Big Island, Small Island” reunites two lost souls who realize it is impossible, indeed useless, to try to recreate the past. And “Quantum Theory,” set in Africa and New York, offers a bittersweet meditation on the significant difference between falling in love and being in love.
Many of these nine well-crafted and entertaining stories are built on chance encounters, and in Marciano’s assured hands the reader accepts the intervention of fate without question. These are stories about finding love in a fragile world, but even more, about all of the connections—past and present—that shape us and anchor us in place.