The characters in each of the nine stories of Francesca Marciano’s The Other Language, are displaced or unmoored in one way or another. They are in a different city, country, or time in their life.
Time takes its toll, you are a different person, nothing is the same, you can’t go back. “It’s always a disappointment.”
In “Big Island, Small Island” a woman flies to a tiny island off the coast of Africa to see an old boyfriend. But he is not the boy he once was, has grown a long beard, lives in a hut with a native woman, the rapport they once had is over, as are the daring views he used to express
He is a different person in this new incarnation—that cool aloofness, that lightness of touch he had when I knew him, seems gone.
In “The Presence of Men” a divorced woman moves to a small Italian village where she restores an old building. After several years there she grows restless and returns to Rome. But now she feels out of place, an exile. She couldn’t resume her previous life in Rome, “she couldn’t find her center any more.”
In the title story an Italian teenager and sister travel with their father to a Greek village by the sea. There they meet some young boys from England. The older sister wants to speak to one of them, but knows no English. Many years later she moves to New York, where she starts a new life. But even though she now speaks English fluently, she feels out of place, an outcast in a land where she has no past, no roots.
In “An Indian Soiree” a couple travels to a luxury resort to try to restore their marriage. In a dream one night, the woman recaptures the passion she once felt for a former lover. During an exotic dance performance the man becomes enchanted with the lead dancer.
At breakfast the next morning, they realize their marriage has come to an end. The woman flies to Paris to meet her lover; the man arranges to have dinner with the dancer. But both their romantic fantasies were disappointing. The damage had been done, they were now adrift, unable to “take shelter” anywhere.
It took a surprisingly short time for sixteen years of marriage to come undone.
There is a deep longing and loneliness in each of these nine stories. They are beautifully written, a pleasure to read, and be surprised by the chance encounters creating the dilemmas in each of them. The struggles of her characters have a generality that captures the reader, captured me anyway. They also focus on the places where her characters find themselves and the effect it has on their lives.
"Yet a foreigner always remains a foreigner, no matter how long he’s been away from his native place."