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On Sale: April 08, 2014
Pages: 304 | ISBN: 978-0-307-90837-7
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Hailed by The New York Times as “a natural-born storyteller,” the acclaimed author of Rules of the Wild gives us nine incandescently smart stories, funny, elegant, and poignant by turns, that explore the power of change—in relationships, in geographies, and across cultures—to reveal unexpected aspects of ourselves.
 
Taking us to Venice during film festival season, where a woman buys a Chanel dress she can barely afford; to a sun-drenched Greek village at the height of the summer holidays, where a teenager encounters the shocks of first love; and to a classical dance community in southern India, where a couple gives in to the urge to wander, these remarkable tales bring to life characters stepping outside their boundaries into new passions and destinies. Enlivened by Francesca Marciano’s wit, clear eye, and stunning evocations of people and places, The Other Language is an enthralling tour de force rich with many pleasures.

Excerpt

from The Presence of Men
 
The bells woke Lara up at seven. When she opened her eyes under the tall vaulted ceiling, for a split second she felt as though she were inside a church. It had been her first night in the new house in the village and she’d slept beautifully.
 
She was emerging from the shower in her plum-colored, Moroccan-style bathroom when she heard a vigorous knock at the front door. Still dripping wet, she ran down in her robe, crossed the courtyard and opened the old wooden door, which had been painstakingly sandpapered and waxed. A small woman of indefinite age, with an old-fashioned perm, her body shaped like a box, was staring at her.
 
“You are the person who bought this house?” she asked, her voice loud as a trumpet. She was a local, as Lara could tell from her accent. She nodded.
 
“Ha ha! At last you are here in person!” the little woman said with a cruel smile and slid herself inside the courtyard like an eel.
 
“For months all I’ve been seeing are your builders. Very rude people. Where do they come from?”
 
“Martano, I think. Why?” Lara wondered if the small woman had come to give her some kind of fine, although she wore no uniform.
 
“I knew it. Martano people are all thieves.”
 
“I’m so sorry, signora. Was there a problem?”
 
The woman ignored her and proceeded to take a long, critical look at the potted plants that filled the courtyard, at the indigo blue table and matching chairs that Lara had spotted in a magazine and bought online. She closely examined the pale dusty mauve of the walls, a hue that had cost days of trial and error.
 
“I see you have changed everything in here.”
 
Lara wasn’t sure where this might be leading.
 
“Well, I have restored the place. It was a ruin.”
 
The woman ignored her and peered some more. “My great-aunt lived in this house,” she said.
 
She brushed the smooth surface of the wall, then moved swiftly toward the glass door of what used to be the barn and glanced inside.
 
“She used to keep her donkey in there,” she said, pointing at the space.
 
“Oh yes? Well, that’s the living room now.”
 
“She never married, she worked very hard all her life. She was a very clever woman.”
 
Lara tried a friendlier expression. All this might be pretty sweet, after all. “So you knew this place from the time she lived here? How nice. Would you like to see what it looks like now?”
 
Lara opened the glass door, which gave into the ex-barn-now-living-room, but the woman was already snooping inside the kitchen on the opposite side of the courtyard.
 
“I knew this place like the back of my hand. We used to play in here all the time when we were children.”
 
She stepped into the kitchen and Lara followed her. There were still unopened boxes on the floor; the stainless steel surfaces of the brand-new appliances glinted in the shady room. The woman gave a yelp.
 
“See! I had heard from people you had done this, but I wanted to see for myself.”
 
“Had done what?” Lara asked.
 
The woman was glaring at the opposite wall.
 
This thing you have done in here, is a mortal sin.”
 
By now, had she been in Rome, Lara would have normally lost her patience and asked her to leave, but it was her first contact with any of her neighbors in the village and she sensed she’d reached a delicate intersection that required some caution.
 
“A mortal sin!” the little woman repeated in a thundering voice.
 
“Please have a seat. Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”
 
“No.”
 
“Okay. Then please, what is it that I did?”
 
“The forno. You tore it down.”
 
Lara crossed her arms.
 
“Yes I did, the architect . . . my friend,” she said, but immediately regretted bringing an architect into the conversation. “It was as big as a room. It took up too much space, it took half the courtyard.”
 
But the woman was right; when, a year earlier, Lara had bought the house in the heart of the village, she’d taken Silvana, her architect friend, to see it. She was a towering woman in her forties with flaming hennaed hair who on principle never came off her high heels, especially when marching through building sites (“height gains you respect, it’s Pavlovian”). Silvana had paced inside the old building not uttering a sound, with an air of concern. Maybe it was just her way, or maybe she didn’t approve of the house. Lara had begun to worry. Silvana had taken one look at the opening of the gigantic wood oven in the kitchen and before Lara could say anything she’d climbed inside it with the speed of a crab, holding her flashlight.
 
“It’s gigantic. And totally useless,” her voice had boomed from the dark interior, like Jonah’s from inside the whale.
 
She’d reappeared, her clothes coated in blackish dust, then effortlessly slid out of the oven mouth. She had a big grin on her face.
 
“Good. We can gain some space. I feel a lot better now.”
 
So the forno went down, and what was once a dark chamber was now a third of her courtyard.
 
The little woman waved her index finger at Lara like a mad evangelist.
 
“You tore down the last oven of this village to gain a little space for your plants. That forno was a public monument. It was part of our history!”
 
The woman shook her head with disdain.
 
“Yes, I was told this room was the village bakery. But as I told you the wood oven took half the space of the courtyard. I mean, it went from here all the way to . . .” Lara made a sweeping arc with her hand across the expanse of the courtyard.
 
“This was not a bakery. It was a communal oven. An oven where people could bring their own loaves of bread. Bread and pies, so that my aunt could bake for them. She only charged ten, twenty liras a piece. We all came here as children with our tins, everyone did, every Saturday . . .”
 
“Did you? How nice. So, what did . . .” Lara loved stories like this, it was part of what had drawn her to the village in the first place. But the woman was talking right over her question.
 
“ . . . And in winter, when it was really cold, this was the warmest room in the whole village, so we sat in that corner, see? My aunt used to have a wooden bench right there.”
 
The woman gestured to the wall where now sat the dishwasher still sheathed in its cardboard box.
 
“My aunt would give us sweets while we waited. In the summer we’d wait outside in the garden, and we’d play with the donkey. This is how things were in this village up until only forty, fifty years ago.”
 
The little woman grabbed a chair and slumped on it, hands entwined on her lap. Her feet barely touched the ground. Lara was beginning to feel it had been a mistake to let this creature in. Obviously this was only the beginning of something far more serious than Lara had envisaged.
 
The little woman went on. “But of course, what do you care? You people come from the outside and assume everything here is up for sale and you think you have a right to take it down, rip it all up as you please. You even bring your own architect to destroy our history!”
 
Lara stared at the little woman, shocked. This was truly a disgrace. She’d come to this village with the best intentions, eager to learn and respect the local culture and traditions. And now—barely twenty-four hours after she’d moved in—she was already facing the enormity of her first mistake.
 
Senta signora, I’m sorry about the wood oven,” Lara said. “I had no idea how important it was. In fact nobody told me. I’m really sorry, I . . . I wish I had known before, is all I can say.”
 
It was true: the local real-estate agent—a young man with overly gelled hair and two cell phones constantly ringing—hadn’t said a word about the oven being part of the village history, had made no mention of the old lady with a donkey who baked for the community; he didn’t mention village women and children taking their tins of pies and bread into what was now her stainless steel kitchen.
 
“Why did you buy a house here?” the woman asked, a prosecutor for the defendant.
 
Lara widened her arms, resigned.
 
“Because I love this village and I wanted to preserve this beautiful house.” She breathed in a bit and continued, “Which by the way would’ve crumbled had I not bought it.”
 
The woman didn’t balk; she shook her head.
 
“You people don’t come here to buy property because you love it. You come because it’s cheaper.”
 
Such was Lara’s welcome to her new life in the house she’d bought right after her divorce.

Francesca Marciano

About Francesca Marciano

Francesca Marciano - The Other Language

Photo © © Laura Sciacovelli

FRANCESCA MARCIANO is the author of the novels Rules of the Wild, Casa Rossa, and The End of Manners. She lives in Rome.

Praise

Praise

“Magical, fleet-footed stories [that] leap around the globe, written with authority and storytelling virtuosity . . . What makes these tales stand out is Marciano’s sympathetic but wryly unsentimental ability—not unlike Alice Munro’s—to capture the entire arc of a character’s life in a handful of pages, and her precise yet fluent prose that immerses us, ineluctably, in the predicaments of her men and women . . . Captivating.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“This is an astonishing collection. Marciano’s characters are caught between the coming and going, unable to call any one place home. They struggle with self-definition. They seek re-invention. Impulsive characters, portrayed in moments of juncture, in moments of crisis, in a series of indelible scenes. Written with extraordinary clarity and elegance, The Other Language is a vision of geography as it grounds us, as it shatters us, as it transforms the soul.” —Jhumpa Lahiri

“Wry, knowing, never less than engaging . . . stories [about] the negotiations men and women make not only between themselves but between cultures, [when] reality and imagination have a tendency to bump up hard against each other—a preoccupation that becomes more pressing for all of us in an increasingly globalized world . . . ‘The Other Language’ almost has the feel of a novella: Its characters are caught sharply in its clean Greek light, and the no man’s land of adolescence is precisely and movingly described.  Marciano is a screenwriter as well as a novelist, and she knows how to hold a reader’s attention, how to set a scene. Her dialogue, unsurprisingly, is always fluid . . . The best stories in this collection have the confidence of subtlety, and a touch of the unexpected . . . When her leggerezza—lightnessshines through, her characters and their adventures take flight.” —Erica Wagner, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Marciano portrays her locales with an amazing economy and confidence . . . She has a sharp eye for the right details and a sure grip on portraying people. It takes only a few sentences for her to pull the reader right into their worlds and feel the conflicting forces swirling around them, whether set in a remote sub-Saharan African village or in overcrowded Venice during the Biennale. Her subjects are the kind of events that loom large in our lives when they occur, and remain to haunt us ever after. Her voice is confident and lucid, and she shines when presenting both the subtle and overt differences in culture and age. This is a book full of vivid imagery and scenes, which achieves its poignancy with telling observation rather than sentimentality.” —Michel Basilières, Toronto Star

“The loss of fantasy provides the undercurrent in The Other Language, whose characters—mostly women, and all attempting to balance transition with expectation—navigate change with a quiet, nearly lugubrious optimism. Marciano’s is a world in which we see and accept lives not lived. That sounds like the antithesis of summer reading, yet Marciano traverses the canals of emotion—from despair to bliss—seamlessly. Her characters will themselves to live in the moment while licking past wounds and looking toward the future. None find themselves in the future they imagined, but they all find a self-reliance that brings happiness. A lucky few even realize how adjusted expectations make our lives so much easier . . . Wonderfully engaging and penetrating.” —Andrew Belonsky, Everyday eBook

“Intensely sensuous, emotionally wise. After inhaling the stories from [this] brilliant new collection, my first urge (it may soon be yours) is to race out to acquire every other work [Marciano] has made. Her clean, straightforward language moves crisply and takes shapely form. Her imagery vibrates. To open to any page of The Other Language is to be drawn at once into her characters’ minds and hearts, to recognize and care about what happens, and (bewitched by the stately music of her narrating voice) to want to stay on. Marciano nimbly depicts lives entwined in Italy, Africa and New York, each (per Alice Munro, whose work Marciano's resembles) ‘a lifetime glimpsed in a moment.’ Her deep, laser-accurate understanding of how we think about what we undertake, at every phase of life, love and folly, astonishes. One finishes this collection feeling altered, provoked, exhilarated . . . Complex, rigorous . . . Pure wonder, veined with passages that glitter.” —Joan Frank, San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Captivating . . . The Other Language features flirtations with the exotic [that] prompt a sea change, [from] an adolescent crush at the beach [to] a Chanel dress that acquires a talisman-like power. With a nod to Paul Bowles, Marciano evokes the freedom found in not belonging, as the heroine of her title story explains: ‘She felt she had finally become . . . someone who thought, dreamed and made love in a different language.’” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue
 
“Exquisite, transporting . . . The book transcends physical travel, celebrating the power of encountering new cultures, personalities and truths, and ultimately discovering different versions of ourselves. Four stars.” —Robin Micheli, People
 
“Glamorous . . . The women in Marciano’s globe-trotting new book are in search of transformation as they attempt to change their lives. They are usually women untethered from domestic routines, if only temporarily . . . A new dress, a change of scene, a spontaneous invitation—Marciano understands that these are the superficial actions people take in order to get at the deeper impulses they cannot name. Her characters are often surprised by the way their lives are overturned, even as they are the ones to initiate the upheaval . . . Reading Marciano, I was reminded of an old writing teacher’s adage, ‘Bewilderment is the most human of emotions.’ Marciano allows her characters their bewilderment, their curiosity, and above all, their vulnerability. The result is a collection of stories that is as entertaining as it is humane.” —Hannah Gersen, The Millions

“Featuring stories set in Greece, Rome, India, and even a remote island off the coast of Tanzania, Marciano’s collection helps us do a bit of armchair traveling . . . Nine smart and elegant tales of people, and change—those looking for it, dealing with it, and getting surprised by it—inside and out.” —Dame Magazine

“Thrilling, delicious, gorgeous . . . Marciano’s protagonists live in other countries, or with new or broken relationships. Like competent speakers of a foreign language, they cope—brilliantly sometimes—but they are never entirely sure-footed; pitfalls open at their feet . . . Marciano uses the tightness of the short story to focus sharply on the effect places [have] on their sense of self. Foreign places are not backgrounds or settings; they are participants affecting the protagonists as much as, or more, than anything else in their lives. This is one of those truths that can be hard to see or easy to discount. [But] it is brought sharply into focus by Marciano’s steely handling of language and her pellucid evocation of place . . . Powerful.” —Claire Hopley, The Washington Times

“Impressive . . . With bilingual fluidity and a geographic carousel as a CV, Francesca Marciano’s worldview is expansive and deft. Her nine-story collection examines the very notion of a ‘journey.’ And where it may take us. Jettisoning exhausted re-invention clichés, she observes her actors as they choose fresh settings, and sometimes-unfamiliar grammars. What they desire is to move beyond familiar boundaries—of all kinds—in search of a ‘real’ or ‘other’ self. In this self-hunt, eight of Marciano’s third person tales focus on female protagonists, women juggling volcanic life changes and emotions . . . The heart of this book lies in a question: What happens when we deliberately pass a threshold, or open a hidden door? . . . Marciano’s sparkling collection poignantly traces an eternal human dream: that there is a better life, worth living. Perhaps in a change of geography, language, or identity. As her ironically provocative tales prove: the dream goes on. Penetrating, bittersweet.” —Patricia E. Fogarty, The American

“Compelling . . . The characters in Marciano’s stories are displaced—both geographically and in matters of the heart. They are educated, well-heeled and discontent, adrift in an ever-contracting world that has clouded the notion of home. The title story—one of the finest—begins with an enticing Alice Munro-like premise . . . In 'An Indian Soirée,' reminiscent of the atmospheric, incisive stories of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a couple has come to the subcontinent for an extended sojourn, and in one the space of one morning their marriage falls apart . . . 'Quantum Theory,' set in Africa and New York, offers a bittersweet meditation on the significant difference between falling in love and being in love . . . Many of these nine well-crafted and entertaining stories are built on chance encounters, and in Marciano’s assured hands the reader accepts the intervention of fate without question. These are stories about finding love in a fragile world, but even more, about all of the connections—past and present—that shape us and anchor us in place.” —Robert Weibezahl, BookPage

“Seductive, cosmopolitan . . . In The Other Language, romance is the cure for ennui. Marciano’s heroines take the kind of risks most of us have been conditioned to avoid: they reconnect with lost lovers, migrate to faraway lands, and forge liaisons beyond the bounds of their race, culture, and class. Marciano is an apt guide to these exotic lives, [and] she engages us intimately with them . . . Frustrated communication is a recurrent theme, as is the quest for the elusive person or place that allows one to feel at home. In Marciano’s nuanced emotional universe, a foreigner is likely to consider herself an outsider, no matter how long she’s lived elsewhere—especially if she still dreams in her mother tongue.” —Amy Fine Collins, O, The Oprah Magazine

“From Rome with love, this elegant and colorful collection will get you seriously thinking about giving up life in the States and going to Venice, a small Greek village, or any of the other places she uses as a setting in her stories.” —Jason Diamond, Flavorwire

“You hold in your hands 304 pages of dynamite. These stories are worldly, political, and funny to boot. I’ve loved Marciano’s writing since her first novel, Rules of the Wild—but I am completely hot for The Other Language.” —Gary Shteyngart

“The Other Language is a voyage around the world, among travelers and tourists, expats and interlopers, from the fringes of the Venice Film Festival, to a sumptuous vacation spot in India, to a remote island in East Africa, and beyond. This outstanding book has a quality I find only in the best short-story collections: that, after each chapter, I cannot immediately flip to the next, but need time to absorb what has just unfolded so memorably before me. Francesca Marciano is a superb storyteller.” —Tom Rachman, author of The Imperfectionists

“I loved every single one of these affecting, suspenseful, and sublimely crafted stories. It’s clear that Francesca Marciano is worldly as well as wise, yet what she’s surprisingly insightful about is the hazardous nature of worldliness itself. Because our modern lives are so mobile, our ways of communicating so refined, we risk coming to believe that the borders defining class, culture, and gender are somehow more permeable. Think again, she tells us in these nine cautionary tales—the best new collection I’ve read in years.” —Julia Glass

“I love being in Marciano’s unpredictable worlds. These are touching and true stories about the hiddenness of the hearts of the people closest to us, and what’s hiding in our own hearts. The writing is so moving, and conveys so much truth with a marvelously light and tender touch. One feels a haunting recognition for the minuscule losses that are such a large part of everyday life.” —Sheila Heti

“An absolute delight. Marciano has conjured up a set of far-flung characters—in Rome, Venice, New York, a Greek island, the coast of East Africa—as they struggle to make sense of their geographical and emotional displacement. In their disjointed ways, they succeed in finding their own little perch, and a modicum of serenity, in this wide universe. A collection so compelling, so satisfying and ultimately so addictive that one closes the book hankering for more.” —Andrea di Robilant

“In each transfixing, emotionally charged, sexy, piquantly funny, and perfectly rendered story, Marciano makes you feel the heat of the sun, the shiver of shadow, and the shock of unforeseen lust and loss. As she dramatizes with spellbinding command the revelations of displacement, the aphrodisiac power of fame, and the slipperiness of love and authenticity, you can’t bear to finish Marciano’s superlative stories, even though you can’t wait to find out what happens.”—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Lovely . . . Each of Marciano’s nine closely observed stories of growing up, dislocation and family relationships is a gem, with fully realized characters wistfully and beautifully captured through dialogue that is both pensive and poignant.” —Kirkus (starred review)
 
“Excellent . . . Generations of Italian fled the poverty of their native country, never to return. But in this century, Italians leaving Italy are highly mobile citizens of the globalized world who, nevertheless, remain recognizably Italian. It’s these Italians who populate Marciano’s stories. Her women (and sometimes her men) don’t necessarily want what they have—they make choices and make do; they travel, get divorced, adapt. The effect is both luxurious and down to earth, a pleasurable sojourn with characters Marciano depicts as simultaneously likable and irritating, bold and retiring, types and individuals—not unlike those reading about them. [A] strong collection.” —Publishers Weekly

“Seductive, cosmopolitan . . . In The Other Language, romance is the cure for ennui. Marciano’s heroines take the kind of risks most of us have been conditioned to avoid: they reconnect with lost lovers, migrate to faraway lands, and forge liaisons beyond the bounds of their race, culture, and class. Marciano is an apt guide to these exotic lives, [and] she engages us intimately with them . . . Frustrated communication is a recurrent theme, as is the quest for the elusive person or place that allows one to feel at home. In Marciano’s nuanced emotional universe, a foreigner is likely to consider herself an outsider, no matter how long she’s lived elsewhere—especially if she still dreams in her mother tongue.” —Amy Fine Collins, O, The Oprah Magazine


 

 

 
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and other material that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about The Other Language, a breakthrough, transporting collection of stories from internationally acclaimed author Francesca Marciano.

About the Guide

Hailed by The New York Times as “a natural-born storyteller,” the much-admired author of Rules of the Wild gives us nine incandescently smart stories, funny, elegant, and poignant by turns, that explore the power of change—in relationships, geographies, and across cultures—to reveal unexpected aspects of ourselves.

Taking us to Venice during film festival season, where a woman buys a Chanel dress she can barely afford; a sun-drenched Greek village at the height of summer holidays, where a teenager encounters the shocks of first love; and a classical dance community in southern India, where a couple gives in to the urge to wander, these remarkable stories bring to life characters stepping outside their boundaries into new passions and destinies. Enlivened by Marciano’s wit, clear eye, and stunning evocations of people and places, The Other Language is an enthralling tour de force rich with many pleasures.

About the Author

Francesca Marciano is also the author of the novels Rules of the Wild, Casa Rossa, and The End of Manners. She has written several screenplays, including Don't Tell, which was nominated in 2005 for an Academy Award in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. She lives in Rome. 

Discussion Guides

1. How does the very first, and title, story of the collection explore the chasms and common ground that can be found between different cultures through language? Consider Emma’s observation of how her brother Luca and Nadia relate—“They no longer needed a common language to get along”—and her own almost magical, unconscious assimilation of English (11). What happens to people when they are forced to speak a language not their own—do they stay the same or become someone else?

2. In “The Other Language,” the three siblings who lose their mother at a very young age assume that “death must be an impolite subject to bring up in conversation, a disgrace to be hidden, to be put behind” (7). How does this belief affect Emma’s developing relationships with her brother and sister; her father, David; and later, Jack? What are the other characters’ relationships to loss and to death?

3. Travel is the jumping-off point for many of the stories. How are characters both bound and liberated by a sense of “home”? 

4. What are some reasons people in these stories travel, alone or with others—physically as well as metaphorically? Consider Stella in “Big Island, Small Island,” Lara in “The Presence of Men,” and Mrs. D’Costa in “The Club.”

5. What do you think is behind the way that Pascal and Caterina play their game in boutiques, in “Chanel”? Is the promise of Caterina’s dress fulfilled, even indirectly, by the story’s end? Why or why not? And what does Venice as a particular location add to this story?

6. What roles do clothes and “dressing up” play in one’s ambitions and sense of self and identity in “Chanel,” and throughout the collection? Consider what being “in fashion” means in the stories “The Presence of Men,” “An Indian Soirée,” and “Roman Romance” as well as this 

7. Similarly, what role does music play, especially rock and roll, in helping various characters uncover their desires and achieve idealized versions of themselves? Consider “Roman Romance” and “An Indian Soirée” as well. 

8. How does Marciano’s own background, as an Italian who writes in English, inform her narrative style? Could you sense this multicultural, and even specifically Italian, point of view in the way she observes the world, draws her characters (Italians and non-Italians alike), and uses English to describe certain ideas, places, or people? 

9. In “Big Island, Small Island,” what is it about seeing Andrea in his new environment that makes Stella so uncomfortable? Is it only the place itself and the way Africa changed him, or is it something else, perhaps having to do with Stella herself? 

10. How would Andrea and Stella’s reunion have been different without Carlo Tescari’s presence? Who really is the biggest “outsider” among the characters in this story (91)? 

11. What changes the relationship between Lara and Mina in “The Presence of Men”? Are they united more by their vulnerability toward and attraction to men, or their resistance to them? 

12. What does Lara mean when she says that “delayed pain was the story of her life: it was exactly for this reason some people had called her an optimist and others a fool” (147)? Who is most responsible for this pain? And do you think Lara’s behavior around Leo and Ben makes her seem more optimistic or foolish? 

13. Many of Marciano’s protagonists are women. What does looking so closely through that lens tell us about the nature of relationships today? How does the husband’s point of view in “An Indian Soirée” add to the collection’s representation of love and desire, as well as marital and midlife dissatisfaction—what he calls “this lack of want for life” (172)? 

14. How does this story’s structure of alternating perspectives reveal the couple’s fundamental misunderstandings of each other? Do you think it was their trip to India, a place with “too many layers, multiple souls, [and] myriad messages” that caused an inevitable rupture, or might they have stayed together if they’d never left home (178)? 

15. What are the short- and long-term effects of racial and ethnic stereotypes on the characters in “The Club”? 

16. For Mrs. D’Costa, is it more harmful or soothing to feel nostalgia for her old self and old life with her late husband, Victor? How does she turn her wounds both past and present into positive energy, despite her losses? 

17. How does Marciano capture the way people from different cultures interpret foreign behaviors and customs, both seriously but also in a humorous sense? Consider the book  the narrator in “The Italian System” is writing, and her take on American as well as Italian culture. How do both sets of interpretations get upended by the story’s ending? 

18. In “Quantum Theory,” what comfort does Sonia find in being in a place, and finding love, where “one could vanish, be lost, be found and rescued by strangers” (249)? 

19. What is so painful about the way Drew breaks up with Elsa in “Roman Romance,” and about the confusion that comes from the megahit song people think is about her? Consider both the painting  Judith Slaying Holofernes and the story’s eponymous song. What do they both suggest to you about the role of art and artifice in fashioning a sense of identity?

Suggested Readings

Donoghue, Emma. Astray
Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies
Le, Nam. The Boat
Lipsyte, Sam. The Fun Parts
Mueenuddin, Daniyal. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Parks, Tim. Italian Ways
Quatro, Jamie. I Want to Show You More
Rachman, Tom. The Imperfectionists
Russell, Karen. Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Twain, Mark. The Innocents Abroad
Walter, Jess. Beautiful Ruins and We Live in Water

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