Antonio Tabucchi. Tristano muore: Una vita.
ANTONIO TABUCCHI'S Tristano muore is a dark meditation on the approach of death in what he portrays as the difficult, even humiliating context of Italian culture today. Its melancholy tone ties it to Si sta facendo piu tardi (2001), Tabucchi's preceding work of fiction (see WLT 76:1, p. 113). That work, however, was a "novel in the form of letters" by several hands while this is "una vita"--a "life" presented in a monologue by the title character. Tristano's reflections as he waits for death are delivered with no Isolde and thus no possible liebestod at hand. He is attended, instead, by the "Scrittore" who is writing down his last words, his faithful housekeeper "Frau," and a doctor. Bedridden by cancer and befuddled by morphine, Tristano remembers fragments of what would seem a life of high romance involving dashing partisans, passionate yet elusive women, and gorgeous landscapes in Tuscany, Greece, Spain, and Provence, plus participation in such dramatic events as the occupation of Greece by Italian fascist forces in 1940, the Resistance of 1943-45, and the terrorist years of the 1970s.
As he thinks back over those acts during the Resistance--for which he received a medal for valor--Tristano realizes that what he did can also be read (by the woman he once loved, for example) as the actions of a spy and a traitor. Aware that his motives were not the purely altruistic ones of official patriotic hagiography, he is driven to the additional conclusion that the liberty for which the partisans fought has become instead in Berlusconi's Italy the liberty to oppress others, especially in less technologically developed countries. The monster of fascism was defeated, to be sure, but only to be followed by such monstrous sequels as the slaughter by the victorious forces of noncombatants in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Tristano muore is not a parody of the Resistance novel, as some have suggested, but an affectionate revocation of modalities of expression and of being in the world that are no longer possible today. It is in this spirit that we must understand the echoes of Hemingway, the evocations of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, and the bits and pieces of poetry, music, and other cultural detritus that wash through Tristano's memory as he attempts to make sense of his life. Verba volant sed scripta manent, according to the consoling Latin tag. But Tabucchi would seem to reverse the positive sense of that phrase. If words do take wing, that is because they are alive: that writing remains is a sign it is dead. "Scrittore," therefore, will never capture the essence of the life whose details the dying Tristano stubbornly continues to dictate to him. Sometimes bitter but also frequently lyrical, this latest book by Tabucchi is deeply skeptical about the power of art to console the pangs of our mortality. Nevertheless, Tristano muore is a powerfully engaging and beautifully written novel that may come in time to rank as one of this author's best.
Ohio State University