The mystery, beauty and complexities of culture, family and love are revealed through the relationship between a seemingly mismatched American woman and an Italian man.
When Jamie asks if she can accompany Jack on his trip to Italy to visit his family; he, in spite of the newness of their relationship, agrees. As soon as they get on the plane to Italy, Jamie observes that Jack transforms into a “melodic Giovanni” and releases “a man who (up to this moment) kept his heritage secured in the vault of his boot-shaped soul”. As Jamie meets Jack’s family, observes his close connection with his mother and the interplay between members of the family and community, the differences between the two lovers in terms of their culture with its intricacies of tradition, history, community and family ties begins to surface.
Thirty-something Jamie, a financial specialist is demure and, like the colors of her clothes, muted, compared to the Italians who are expressive in their speech and dress. Giovanni, the senior engineer at the company she is merging with her own, is as passionate, colorful and vibrant as his Italian counterparts. Jamie’s struggle to fit in, to find her voice and place in the family is beautifully captured: “all she can offer are ignorant smiles, the equivalent of a one-year-old.” And how “she can’t find the woman she is with him when his family is around.” As she observes the deep differences between their cultures, traditions and ultimately their personalities and life choices, she begins a slow transformation that deepens her own life.
Jamie’s narrative and character are hypnotic, precise and the revelations about Jack’s “depth of nostalgia” and the extent of bonds in the Italian culture, though quietly revealed, are powerful. For example, in Italy there is no such thing as a starter house, rather “in Italy, there is only one word. Casa.” Also, Jamie’s realization that “There are no heirlooms in [her] family, only work ethic.”
Giovanni’s character is equally rich. By contrasting his deep-rooted bonds with his family and culture, author Jackie Townsend reveals Jamie’s lack of depth in her familial relationships. But it is also this contrast that Townsend deftly uses to highlight the love and bond blossoming between the two characters, as they understand and accept one another’s differences. While Jamie is globetrotting continually so she can advance in her career, Giovanni has quit his job because “in Italy we work so that we can pursue our passions.”
Townsend’s beautifully understated narrative reveals the mystery of the haunting closeness of Giovanni’s mother’s love for him and why he holds the title of “The Chosen One”, in addition to love’s transformative powers. With subtlety and precision, Townsend’s fully fleshed characters observe their many differences and begin to examine their own emotions, values and choices in life; set against the backdrop of Italy, American cities and the battle of countries and culture in the World Cup Soccer games. The use of the present tense and the smooth narrative with its perceptive observations on life and culture fully engage the reader in the unlacing of the character’s secrets, emotions and thoughts to arrive at the heart of what really matters in life.
Townsend has crafted a compelling and intricate story that masterfully explores culture, love and relationships with haunting beauty and keen perception.
Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for IndieReader