Edward Bennett is a young student traveling abroad, who, against the wishes of his mother Maria, takes a trip to her family’s ancestral village, the broken-down, earthquake-damaged town of Lavenna. There he finds long-lost relatives and family friends, and the beginning of a story that his mother is finally able to finish when he returns home.
Andrew Eustace Anselmi’s IRON BUTTERFLY unfolds in multiple sections, through Edward’s journey, his mother’s stories, and their family’s final reunion and healing, keeping the reader engrossed and absorbed as each part of the story goes deeper and deeper into the traumatic events of Maria’s past. Descriptions are vivid, drawing the reader into the scene and allowing us to experience it almost as though we were there with the characters. Characters are distinct and have substantial personality – even if some of the lesser characters feel more like symbols than human beings, this fits well with the quasi-allegorical nature of the tale. The book is a bit slow to get started, and there are places, particularly in the beginning section, where Anselmi wanders off into philosophy, history, or politics, getting characters involved in serious and intense discussions on topics which, while sometimes interesting, don’t have much relevance to the plot. The author also has a tendency to overexplain emotions, both in dialogue and in text, rather than simply showing them, which unfortunately does dull their impact somewhat.
Nevertheless, there are some deeply beautiful moments in this story, like Maria’s mother’s confession to Padre Piore and his response, and some bitterly painful and cruel moments as well. The Catholic symbolism in the book is rich and pervasive, almost to the point of being heavy-handed, even a bit too obvious (from the wasp bite in the center of Edward’s hand, like stigmata, to the repeated use of the phrase, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” in both Italian and German, and the ubiquitous butterfly, symbol of resurrection and rebirth). The psychoanalysis at the end offers some interesting and thought-provoking insights and explanations, though viewed through the lens of a distinctly Freudian perspective. All in all, though, this is for the most part a beautiful, richly symbolic exploration of suffering, loss, alienation, maturation, and redemption.
IRON BUTTERFLY is an engrossing and beautifully allegorical tale of the history, suffering, and redemption of an Italian-American family and the small Italian village from which they came.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader