What was your inspiration for Solitaria?

Posted June 2011 as part of the Featured Authors blog.

The inspiration for the book came in the form of a question I wanted to explore. Here is the background that led to it. A relative of mine – an old aunt who lives in Italy – appeared to me to have been forgotten by everyone in her old age, not physically – she had excellent care and contact – but emotionally. Like Piera, the protagonist of Solitaria, my old aunt felt that she didn’t deserve to be abandoned in this way. She believed she had been very generous throughout her life – and she had – and had looked after all her siblings, etc. And most importantly, like Piera, she kept evoking the word LOVE. “Everything I did, I did for love,” she’d say.

I’m quite sure everyone here can think of a relative like mine, one who is smart and wise, but assumes that she/he knows what’s best for everyone; one who gives generously, but with long strings, because she/he knows exactly how this generosity should be spent; one who believes she/he is the authority on everyone, and criticizes everyone’s choices if they do not exactly agree with hers/his; and one who makes these criticisms cruelly, with a sharp sharp tongue, that alienates the very people she professes to love so much.

Fascinated by her character, by the ambiguities of her actions, I set about being her witness, as she talked about her life. What struck me were the differences between her life and ours. For example, people of that generation lived through a war, through an oppressive regime, so their lives were concerned with survival and community  - as perhaps our own pioneers were. We in North America are so spoiled, so privileged and so self-centered in contrast to that. Community and sacrifice are not part of our vocabulary, unless we’re referring to disembodied online ‘communities.’ Of course, I’m speaking generally. There are always exceptions (and thank goodness for that). But we do live in a pampered culture of extreme narcissism, which is diametrically opposed to the ideals of cultures who lived (and continue to live) through wars.

Another difference that struck me was the central place of family in people’s lives of that era (and of course, of many other cultures today). In Italy during the war years, food was scarce because of sanctions, children worked alongside their parents, and Southern Italy in general, was economically depressed. In order to survive, the family had to work for a common good. Thus decisions were made as a collective, because any one member of the family could cast a dark shadow over everyone. Vito, of course, is the shadow of the family in Solitaria, and his actions affect everyone adversely. It’s difficult to imagine this in our own culture, where we value individualism and believe everyone to be responsible for his/her own actions. Family consideration is low on a list of priorities that glorifies youth and celebrity, in a culture that is transient and disposable.

While listening to my aunt’s life, and speaking to other family members, I was again reminded how perception varies, and versions of events within the same family take on completely different nuances and foci. I have always been fascinated by memory, the shape we give memory – how we reconstruct ourselves through memory.

The novel is an exploration of these observations.

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