In my passion for translated literature first, and prize winning works next, I have picked up several books by Italian authors (shockingly obtained at our sub par library). Quiet Chaos won the Strega, Italy’s top literary prize, several years ago. It is a novel of many layers, which centers around an unexpected grief that Pietro Paladini must face in his life.
The novel begins with tremendous momentum, as if we were surfing in the Mediterranean Sea with Pietro and his brother, Carlo, caught up in waves of exhilaration and danger, racing and dueling, and then suddenly saving two women who appear to be drowning. No one on shore is willing to risk their lives to go after these two women, but Carlo and Pietro are brave. They are daring. And they venture forth, each one toward a woman who is in peril.
When the women are brought safely to shore, no one takes any notice of their rescuers at all. They return home, exhausted and unacknowledged, and there Pietro finds that Lara, his soon-to-be-wife, and mother of their ten year old daughter, has suddenly died. While he was rescuing another woman, his own woman has fallen amidst the prosciutto and melon balls that she was carrying before she experienced a heart aneurysm.
How to cope with such a tragedy? Pietro tells his daughter, Claudia, that he will wait outside of her school all day until she is let out. We expect him to do this the first day, yes, because it would be a comfort to look out of the window of your classroom after you have suddenly lost your mother to see your father still there. But, we do not expect him to do this every day for months.
Pietro’s world now becomes his car, the neighborhood in which his daughter goes to school, and all the people who inhabit this area or purposely drive to see him. For he will not leave the safe microcosm he has created for his daughter, but ultimately for himself. Into this world come his sister-in-law, Marta, who accuses him of never loving Lara. Into this world come the big important men of his company, the world biggest telecommunications group, who are involved in an enormously important merger. Into this world comes a little boy named Matteo, with Down Syndrome, who makes a friend of Pietro’s car. And ultimately, the woman whom Pietro has saved from drowning finds him there.
The novel turns from ridiculously funny one moment, to despairing the next. At times I was smiling over misunderstandings, amusing anecdotes about co-workers, or the fabulous spaghetti dinner in which an old man who has been watching Pietro invites him to partake. Yet at others, I felt I had been punched because of the violence, the darkness, the despair that Pietro feels in his very core.
Quiet Chaos is about dealing with doubt, grief, being a parent, and ultimately finding the strength to carry on. It is a book I will be thinking about for a long time.
Miss Gloria was explaining reversibility to us.
Reversibility. I’m impressed. And how did she explain it to you?
She explained that in math there are some operations that are reversible and others that are irreversible. And then she explained that the same things happen in life. And it’s a lot better to do reversible things, if you have the choice.