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Gianfranco Calligarich has his characters fight a blistering psychological contest

Gianfranco Calligarich's second novel translated into Dutch is just as impressive as his well-received previous one. In the embrace of the river is a thrilling story that keeps the main characters and the reader gripped until the last page.

Only two years ago, the first Dutch translation of one of Italian writer Gianfranco Calligarich's novels was published: The last summer in the city, written in 1973 and becoming a classic in its own country. A great debut that made one curious about the rest of this hitherto unknown body of work. Fortunately, a second translation was not long in coming, as Calligarich's third book was published last week, In the embrace of the river from 2011, superbly translated by Manon Smits.

Like The last summer in the city the novel is largely set in the Capital (i.e. Rome), in a spring and summer when the lives of the main characters take decisive turns. The story circles around four characters. Santandrea is owner/bartender at The Resurrected Time, where the first-person narrator (a card player) visits regularly. He befriends the taciturn Tommaso, a wardrobe of a guy and Santandrea's companion.

Psychological chess

The wheels of the machinery of fate are set in motion when a woman appears on the scene who, with her sensual appearance and perfume of wealth, turns many a man's head. For reasons that are unclear, this Alessandra sets her sights on Tommaso and in no time they marry. In no time, they also break up again.

After the addition of some equally memorable players - with names like the Maculine Shipwright or the Aztec Idol - a blistering, fascinating 'match' unfolds between the Blocked Partner and his lost lover, captivating them and everyone around them. Not least the reader. A psychological chess game in which all the characters are sucked in, and from which Tommaso - called his Blocked Partner by the narrator - gradually comes to realise that there is no escape. The game is not finished until all the cards are on the table. And there is one person who holds them: the enigmatic Alessandra. Like Tommaso, as a reader you want to know at all costs how this ends.

It is noticeable from the visual style of narration that Calligarich also wrote for film and television. You see all the characters and situations before you as if they were spotlights. Calligarich's style is incomparable and the way he deploys language, moulds and forges, caresses and whips, is fascinating and impressive. What a writer, what a book.

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Gianfranco Calligarich, In the embrace of the river (224 p.), translated by Manon Smits, Wereldbibliotheek, € 22.99

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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