Quiet Chaos by Sandro Veronesi

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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.

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19 thoughts on “Quiet Chaos by Sandro Veronesi

    • It is indeed a wonderful find. I had just purchased Elena Ferrante’s Troubled Love on my kindle, and amazon suggested other titles from Italian authors that I might enjoy. Who knew that a big company could be personally helpful? Now I have a list of titles I’m working through, although working isn’t the right word. I’ll be sure to share my thoughts as I complete each one.

      And, humour is an absolute essential to life, isn’t it?!

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      • Oh wow, now that was my next question, how to come across these little known gems, matching likes can certainly do that, I am sure there are many more to discover. Oh yes, reading a book today that has me laughing out loud in places and I realise how few books do that today. 🙂

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        • I have a friend who often calls the humour in life The Theater of The Absurd. Sometimes, we just can’t help but laugh at life’s ridiculous bits. Well, better that than shriek in frustration.

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  1. I must admit that I’d never come across this book prior to your review – it sounds very powerful. Did you find the changes in tone jarring in any way or were they fairly natural (like the mix of emotions we have to deal with in our own lives)?

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    • I know, Jacqui, it had been buried from me as well. However, now I’d like to read through each and every Strega prize winner; even the one that I read which had been shortlisted awhile back (Swimming to Elba) was fantastic! I’m going to slowly fulfill that goal because I love these books.

      The changes in tone were not in the slightest jarring…it all flowed together as he told us of his experiences in this neighborhood and reflected back on his life events. In fact, in many ways I could find myself relating to this Italian man (me, an American woman).

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  2. M, your post was terrific. I could feel so much in your words when you described this book, which makes me want to read it ASAP. I’m adding it to my TBR pile and look forward to getting to know Pietro.

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  3. I’m so glad you reviewed this book. Sounds my kind of thing. I love the title and the cover. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I will definitely read it. I have been following winners of the Brage prize for Norwegian literature. Now I will do the same for the Strega Prize. They will have quite a different sensibility I’m sure.

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    • Oh, your comment with the part about the Brage prize makes me want to follow even more countries than Italy! I loved Jon Kalman Steffansson’s novel The Sorrow of Angels which Inread last year, and I’m waiting impatiently for the third (Heart of Man) to be released in the States. Of course, it’s already out in the UK. At any rate, so glad you liked this post and like to read translated literature as I do.

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  4. This one has been on my TBR for a long time. Initially it was the fact that it is a translated fiction that made me want to read it. But the more I heard about it, the more I wanted to read it for its premise. Hopefully I can get my hands on this one soon.

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  5. Pingback: My Year in Reading for 2015 | Dolce Bellezza

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