By David Blomenberg, Reviews Editor
While Tabucchi, winner of the Prix Medicis for foreign literature as well as the Italian PEN prize, isn’t an author that claims much recognition in the U. S., he’s got quite a catalogue of works. Only a handful have been translated into English, something Archipelago Books has been trying to remedy with this, the first of three planned volumes of Tabucchi’s works, all translated by Tim Parks. The other two–Time Ages Rapidly and The Woman of Porto Pim, are due out in the coming year.
Tabucchi has an almost apologetic affection for the stories in this volume, calling them”quasi-stories,” “little ecstasies,” “drifting splinters, survivors of some whole that never was” that are even “larval.” While brief, they don’t give a sense of being the story equivalents of embryos suspended in formalin-filled jars. Rather, like good short fiction, they act in ways that suggest a wider world outside the frame of the story, from the dining couple in “Happy People” who touch on the quirks of academia before discussing other matters that stand to change their lives, to the lost work in “Story of a Non-Existent Story,” which is precisely what the title describes. Some writers would be tempted to clutter this material with heavy dialogue, with theatrics and gestures. The scenes are quiet, straightforward, and simply written. Other stories are more enigmatic, such as “The Translation,” which first presents itself as an ekphrastic piece, but is it more the portrait of a work of art, or a portrait of the museum docent who we find is the voice speaking to us? And in the title story, the piece seems to be as much about artistic/spiritual inspiration as it is about strange alien creatures that land in a monastery’s vegetable garden.
This collection of short-shorts, first published in 1987 and translated into English in 1991, is just out by Archipelago Books, seven months after Tabucchi’s death in Milan from cancer.