I’ve just finished the first book on my list, like family by Paolo Giordano–it helps to have picked a short one, only 146 pages and small ones, too: the book itself is tiny, measuring only 5×7 inches, so the pages themselves don’t have that many words. But what words they have!
This is a resonant and evocative story about an older woman, Mrs. A., who is the nanny for a boy and his young parents. She first comes to work for the narrator and his wife Nora when a difficult pregnancy forces Nora to stay in bed, and Mrs. A takes care of her as if she were the child. But Mrs. A’s time as nanny is very brief–as soon as Emanuele, Nora and the narrator’s son, goes off to school, she leaves- and most of the novel focuses on her slow death from cancer and the ways in which someone not related to a person can nevertheless hold just as much influence and meaning–and perhaps more–than family members.
The novel is told in first-person with sections in omniscient narration that detail what Mrs. A experiences, with great care to descriptions and scene-setting. The narrator, like the author, is a physicist (Giordano has a Ph.D in particle physics, but has turned to writing as a career) who sees the world as basically rational and understandable. However, Mrs. A’s death from a kind of cancer that she shouldn’t have been prone to (cancer of the lung, despite never have been a smoker) upends his notion of the world and its workings. As a mirroring of her act of kindness in helping Nora through her bed-ridden pregnancy, Nora comes to assist Mrs. A on her deathbed, while the narrator, overcome, is unable to be present. And in the end, what is revealed is identity–the way death brings into deeper consciousness the person who is no longer with us and reveals to us the true person who we could not see in life.
Here is a quote that I love: “The thought of death is only for those who are able to release their grip, for those who have already done so at least once. It’s not even a thought, maybe more like a memory” (143).
Somber yes, but not sad. There is such great perspective here on living within the specter of our end, and Giordano has an excellent way of making these big thoughts resonate through the idea of life’s ongoingness. The novel was written in Italian and translated by Anne Milano Appel.