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Antonio Tabucchi: Si sta facendo sempre piu tardi.

Milan. Feltrinelli. 2001. 228 pages L.30,000. ISBN 88-07-01590-0

THE VERY ACT of writing a personal letter presupposes both separation and memory. These are the principal issues on which Antonio Tabucchi's latest book focuses. The eighteen letters of this "novel in the form of letters" are imagined to have been penned by different people in different locations in Europe and the Mediterranean, including Crete, Paris, London, and Alexandria, as well as the Portugal and Italy that are the usual settings for Tabucchi's writings. All but the last of the letters are written to women by men who are recollecting previous passions, frequently from what they sense is a point near the end of their respective lives. The love affairs described or alluded to in the letters are not transitory encounters but life-defining experiences that in several cases have metamorphosed into regret, sorrow, or hatred. Although nostalgia or saudade has figured in much of Tabucchi's other work, in this new book erotic experience is treated with a frankness of expression that may startle some readers familiar with this author's previously more restrained approach to such material.

A further theme treated in Si sta facendo sempre piu tardi is that of the human capacity for cruelty at both the political and the personal level. The totalitarianism and anti-Semitism prevalent in Europe and elsewhere during the last century serve as historical background to more than one of the letters. Similarly, many of the love stories that are recollected have been poisoned by betrayal or interrupted by death. This sense of loss and of temporal foreboding is reflected in the book's title, with its suggestion that "it is getting later and later" and that what has been lost is irrevocably so, despite the power of writing or music to give momentary "sense to the senselessness" of existence. In the end, as is made clear in the last, brutally bureaucratic letter by Atropos, the Fate responsible for terminating our time on earth, life and books come to an end: "Now. At this moment. Immediately."

Made up entirely of letters, this text asks the reader, as if in a theater, to listen to a series of speaking voices reciting personal accounts of the past. The structure of these accounts is sometimes that of free association, and their tone varies from the bereaved to the sarcastic to the bewildered, but almost always with a note of tenderness, regret, or remorse. Si sta facendo sempre piu tardi, like many of this author's other books (see e.g. WLT 72:1, p. 115, and 74:1, p. 134), is thus not exactly a novel. Instead, Tabucchi has presented us with a series of linked meditations on the darker sides of human experience seen from the perspective of approaching death. For this reason, it can be compared to the equally dark L'angelo nero of 1991, though now in a more elegiac tone and without the dramatic colpi di scena or peripeteia of the earlier collection. The work is certain to take its place as an important contribution to the Tabucchi canon, which now comprises some twenty or more books written over the past quarter-century.
Charles Klopp
Ohio State University
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Author:Klopp, Charles
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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