Gaspare Torrente, in Una Barca nel Bosco (A Boat in the Forest) by Paola Mastrocola, is the son of a fisherman, a brilliant Latin student who grew up in a small island. His teachers insist he has a promising future ahead of him, so to Torino he moves with his Mother, leaving his father behind. Both of his parents sacrifice so much for him as they want him to have a better life than they did.
The novel follows his experiences moving to a city from a small island, his struggles to fit it, his falling in love, and the good and bad decisions he makes. He is like 'a boat in a forest,' a fish out of water in this new life. It read a bit like Charlie's story in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a favorite of mine. The moments of discovery were so relatable you can't help but twinge/chuckle to yourself. Gaspare also has this somewhat brilliant obsession with raising plants that makes you wonder if has some sort of autistic tendencies.
But where The Perks of Being a Wallflower ends when Charlie isn't quite finished with high school, Gaspare's tale thankfully continues on to University. His best friend Furio leaves for Berkeley, leaving Gaspare somewhat alone, and somewhat spiteful that he doesn't have the money to leave Italy for school and that he can't leave his plants behind. Instead of becoming the great Latinist everyone (including himself) thought, but instead a Graduate of Law, writing a thesis that is published in an important magazine.
Years pass and Gaspare and Furio meet by coincidence in the bar the Gaspare now owns. He didn't become a Latinist, he didn't become a lawyer, his plants were to occupying, so he opened up a bar. Furio saves the day by using Gaspare's knowledge of botany and his engineering background to invent living apartments, where they become a great success.
The last chapter is a lovely letter to his father who passed away alone on the island, recounting everything that he regrets, what really happened while he was away, and how he wishes somethings were different. In my opinion, the last chapter made the book.
I felt great similarities with Gaspare, which I think is the reason why my teacher recommended it to me in the first case. We both have father's who are fisherman, and at that age I stupidly felt quite ashamed of his profession. We just wanted dad's who have normal office jobs. I think if I left home at 14 I would have similar feelings about missing the sea like Gaspare did, as I miss it everyday and I'm 25. My teachers in high school always told me I was going to be a CEO of a company by time I was 21 and obviously that hasn't happened. Just like anyone, life happens and the dreams of childhood aren't always the right ones.
It's a pity Mastrocola hasn't been translated into English, as this book would be so poignant for everyone at any age. It won the Premio Campiello, a prestigious literary award, in 2004 and needs to be in the hands of more people. Maybe my career as the next William Weaver (sarcasm) will someday start with this book.
Send a note to Jonathan Galassi at Farrar, Straus & Giroux for the most sympathetic contemporary response; the book does sound compelling. And to be the next William Weaver, Daniel, would admit of no sarcasm - as I'm sure you feel. Consider being the first DM?
Makes me want to read the book.
May I recommend Due di due by Andrea de Carlo.
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