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Narrative Plenitude in Limited Space: Dacia Maraini's "Il calciatore di Bilbao".

Abstract: Dacia Maraini's short story includes the various recurring themes we have witnessed throughout literary history: love, fiction vs. reality, gender, and migration in less than 3,000 words.

Keywords: Dacia Maraini, theater, love, soccer, self-reflexivity, short story, narrative.


I am always fascinated by the short story, how a writer is able to communicate the necessary aspects of the narrative within a limited word count and page numbers. The writer, as we all know, must grab our attention, offer up enough information for us to remain interested, and, all the while, make it a complete narrative in its own right.

"Il calciatore di Bilbao" is all that. In it, Dacia Mariaini has succeeded in offering up a gripping tale of approximately 3,000 words. In so doing, she has dialogued with literary history (Pedro Calderon de la Barca's La vida es sueno), nuanced self-reflexivity, and, flirted with, to use the more current term, mobility. Like Calderon's famous play, "Il calciatore di Bilbao" is about love, migration, and free will. In addition, we have an added discussion on the protagonist's cultural preferences between literature, cinema, and theater, this last being the most privileged and, with regard to the storyline, the most significant.

Our protagonist, "l'uomo dalle labbra scure", is a man in love with an actress whom he had seen innumerable times in Calderon's play, in the role of Rosaura. Thus, the dialogue with literary history, specifically theater, is apparent from the first part of the story. And there follows the heart-wrenching tale of his love story with Rosaura / Concha.

This love story, further still, is rooted in mobility to a significant degree; our athlete is, in fact, sold from one soccer team to another and must thus literally cross the ocean from Brazil to Spain, a trip not dissimilar to many other "pellegrini" who have and continue to do, and sometimes dangerously, on a "nave in tempesta" (as the bumpy plane ride is described by our female narrator) as well.

As is the case with many love stories, our tale is befallen with challenges that originate in outside forces (a most popular trope, for sure, during Calderon's time): Concha is tied to a theater contract and cannot follow her beloved athlete; and our "calciatore", in turn, is a bartered athlete who is sold once more from one team to another and thus separated from his beloved.

And the strange fate of Concha marrying someone else, in spite of her declaration of love for him ("Mi sposo, ti amo, Concha"), sends him into an expected sentimental dovetail. But in the end, he reconciles his fate and eventually marries another with whom he lived for many years.

It is, however, his desire to "risolvere [...] il mistero di Concha" that sends him back to Bilbao once he is widowed. Upon his return, on a more tranquil "nave" and seated next to his previous travel companion, she asked if he had resolved Concha's mystery, to which he calmly replied that he had not; that it seems she simply disappeared "nel nulla". In stirring his tea, he murmured to himself the famous words of Calderon's Segismundo--"Se questo e stato un sogno non diro / cosa ho sognato [...] certo e l'ora di destarsi"--while, as our narrator tells us, "l'aereo volava morbido come su un tappeto d'aria, senza una scossa". This, of course, brings us back to the famous verses in Segismundo's soliloquy in which all reality is called into question:
   Man dreams whatever he be,
   And his own dream no man knows.
   And I too dream and behold,
   I dream I am bound with chains,
   And I dreamed that these present pains
   Were fortunate ways of old.
   What is life? a tale that is told;
   What is life? a frenzy extreme,
   A shadow of things that seem;
   And the greatest good is but small,
   That all life is a dream to all,
   And that dreams themselves are a dream. (1)

(1) Hispanic Anthology: Poems Translated from the Spanish by English and North American Poets, collected and arranged by Thomas Walsh (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1920); translation by Arthur Symons.


John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
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Author:Tamburri, Anthony Julian
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Sep 22, 2015
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