This book is a hybrid text. In one sense, it is a collection of stories; but the protagonist is the same throughout and the stories appear in chronological order, so that the book is a kind of fragmented but coherent bildungsroman or romanzo di formazione, as readers watch the protagonist mature, learn from his mistakes, as his many experiences with friends, lovers and acquaintances help him grow in his understanding of Italian Americans, Italian, Italy, and life itself, especially in relation to his own ethnic and national identifications. By following the protagonist, readers may learn what he learns, but they can also keep distance enough to critique what he comes to understand and thereby achieve a richer understanding of themselves.
The protagonist in question is a Jewish American, originally designated almost Kafka-style as M but now renamed as Mel; we follow his Italian American and Italian-related experiences and connections in the course of his life from his early teens to his old age. The book opens with an introduction by a famous Italian critic, Alessandro Carrera. Then comes an invocation—a Jewish awakening to Italian foods, performers, and their like. The core is composed of four parts involving twelve texts, and then a double coda—all materials joining together to cover early loves, travels with an Italian American wife, and then subsequent Italian-American romances and encounters in Italy. With reflections on Jewish-Italian relations, and depictions of key Italian cities and towns, the book includes some of the paradoxes in Italian and Italian American life, as well as the author’s concerns with Italy’s Fascist period, the Holocaust, the mafia, afro-phobia, and recent turns of Italian politics. The text concludes with a double coda, portraying Mel and his three successive wives in a series of demonstrations political and otherwise, as well as a final fantasy of being old and virtually hapless in Rome.
Alternate Titles: Dazed: A Lost Traveler and his Italian Days (or Ways) Or: Lost: A Traveler’s Gaze at Italian Ways (or Days) Read more »