Review of Solitaria
“If you're partial to Italian opera...
If it's true that opera in English seems like soap opera, then Vancouverite Genni Gunn's third novel has a foot in both camps. Published by the Winnipeg literary house Signature Editions, it is set in Italy and is a whirlwind of heightened emotion. The title, Solitaria, refers to Piera, a self-declared matriarch who has locked herself in her bedroom upon the discovery of the body of her long-absent brother Vito. While the family thought heh has absconded to Argentina to escape one more embarrassing scrape, his bullet-riddled bones have been uncovered nearby.
The family has gathered to wait for an explanation, to defend their version of the family's past and to reopen old wounds they attribute to Piera. And so they gather from three different continents – familiar strangers, bound by blood.
The only person she will talk with face to face is David, her younger nephew from Canada. To him she reads her diary, shows photos, all the while proclaiming her suffering on behalf of her ungrateful family. As Piera puts it, scolding David, "we persevered through everything... our happiness earned, every joy paid for with a sacrifice." Piera wallows in her misery; her loveless marriage, done to save her family from loss of honour and destruction; her unconsumated love for her feckless scoundrel of a brother Vito.
She is so unrelenting in her self-flagellation that her migraines become our migraines. Unfortunately.
It doesn't hurt that Gunn was born in Trieste, Italy, living there until she was 11, and is a translator and musician. She brings dusty Italy to life, moving from 1926 up to 2002.
Gunn gives us the poverty, the clearly defined sex roles, a Canadian confusion when confronted by vendettas, and she manages to have secen different voices speaking solo, then in harmony, then in spiteful duets. There's even a surprise crescendo at the end.
The novel is part mystery, part family saga. The reader at first is in Piera's camp (since she is telling the story). But as others give their versions, and fill in the blanks, we are reminded that a traffic accident seen by seven different people may have seven different versions.
But only Piera knows the most important facts – and like any good storyteller she knows when to pause, so that the rush to the revelation at the end has the most power. Like a good aria.
Superstition, curses, fear of punishment engendered by religion, Solitaria draws on this aspect of Italy as well, or as H.L. Mencken said, referring to the southern United States, "where they still worship the principalities of the air."
Readers who enjoy a good family donnybrook (or whatever the Italian equivalent is) will enjoy Solitaria, while Italians may bite their thumb in the author's direction, the way they did over the portrayals in the Godfather movies. ”
More Reviews of this title
“It doesn't hurt that Gunn was born in Trieste, Italy, living there until she was 11, and is a translator and a musician. She brings dusty Italy to life, moving from 1926 up to 2002. Gunn gives us the poverty, the clearly defined sex roles, a Canadian confusion when confronted by vendettas, and she manages to have seven different voices speaking solo, then in harmony, then in spiteful duets. There's even a surprise crescendo at the end. The novel is part mystery, part family saga. The reader at first is in Piera's camp (since she is telling the story). But as others give their versions, and fill in the blanks, we are reminded that a traffic accident seen by seven different people may have seven different versions. But only Piera knows the most important facts — and like any good storyteller she knows when to pause, so that the rush to the revelation at the end has the most power. Like a good aria.”
“Gunn has a fresh and epigrammatic writing style, perhaps unsurprising in someone who has also published poetry and short fiction. Solitaria is a compelling read and the ending comes as a total shock even to the armchair detectives who explore every angle to the enigmatic Piera's story as she relates it to David. Her aged family have gathered from across the world when the body of the eldest brother, Vito, is found, having been dead since the 1950's, when presumed living in anonymity in Argentina. It is the present day, but the novel's laurels lie in her childhood recollections of Mussolini's Italy, evoking rare and unusual sympathies for the confused Fascists who, like Piera's family, survived on rationed bread and dandelion greens.
A cheerful romp in the park Solitaria is not, but it is one you cannot put down. Again, it serves to illustrate that everyone's memories and experiences, even of the same events, are vastly different, even as we revolve in our own self-serving orbits.”
“Genni Gunn brings Italy of the 1940′s to life with her words, and I could hear the stories told to me by my own parents of the difficulties of living in Italy right before and during the War.
If you are looking for a book that keeps you interested page after page, while giving you some insight into Italy’s history during the Fascist Period, then you will enjoy Solitaria. I highly recommend it!”
“A riveting tale of sacrifice and obligation, of vision and revision, of vengeance, betrayal, and ultimately, redemption. Through the brilliantly quixotic voice of Piera, Gunn enlivens the Italy of the 1940s and deftly draws us into the complex, compelling story of la Solitaria. With a filmmaker's eye for sharp shifts in point of view and a master storyteller's ear for spoken and unspoken truths, Gunn keeps us wondering to the very end, Who in this family can we believe?”
“It is possible to have a good heart but be arrogant. It is possible to be ill with regret and longing. It is possible to hide oneself away from others, to take refuge in the past. It is possible to view oneself as heroically self-sacrificing but be seen as selfish. It is possible to keep cherished secrets that fester into wounds. A Canadian literature professor named David learns all these things—second-hand—as well as a good deal more about his own identity, when he accompanies his mother, a recently retired opera diva, back to southern Italy for a family reunion in Genni Gunn's novel Solitaria.... Gunn's depiction of David as the bewildered confidante and reluctant siphon for his aunt's tale of woe is perfectly drawn. He doubles as a cultural translator for the novel itself, unexpectedly immersed in passionate Italian intrigues as a polite, trustworthy, respectful and somewhat aloof Canadian. Gunn succeeds in making us curious; and she succeeds in making us care about the characters. Solitaria is a deeply moving, intellectually stimulating, complex and fully realized novel. Possibly Shakespeare got it wrong. For some, it is better to have never loved at all.”