• Friday, February 26th, 2021

Domenica Starnone was born in Saviano near Naples, Italy, in 1943. He has worked for newspapers and satirical magazines as well as being a screenwriter and a high-school teacher. Starnone, who won Italy’s prestigious Strega Prize, is a prolific acclaimed writer.

He is married to the Italian literary translator and author, Anita Raja, who allegedly writes novels under Elena Ferrante’s pseudonym. Domenico Starnone and Anita Raja both live in Rome.

Akin to Aldo, his main character in Ties, Starnone is also a native of Naples, a high school teacher, and has successfully worked as a writer for Italian television. Ties, Starnone’s thirteenth novel, was first published in Italy in 2014 and the English publication followed in 2016.

Lacci, which means laces – as in shoelaces – is the Italian title for Ties. In the novel, Anna refers to shoelaces when she mentions her mother, saying to her: “have you noticed the ridiculous way your brother ties his shoes? Your father’s fault; he’s never done it right”.

This quotation indicates the lack of bonding or frazzled ties between the two siblings and their parents. It is omnipresent throughout the novel on several levels.

Ties is the story of a man called Aldo Minori who, in 1974, after twelve years of an ostensibly uneventful, happy marriage, feels strangled by the daily routine and commitments of this perpetual bondage. He seeks freedom away from his responsibilities as husband and father.

He abandons his wife, Vanda, and his two children, nine-year-old Sandro and five-year-old Anna, after being besotted by a younger woman named Lidia. The abandonment of his wife and children leaves incurable scars on Aldo’s family, which never heal.

Even after his re-conciliatory return four years later and after the family get together again and after fifty years of marital life, nothing will be the same as before.

In Ties, we have three different narratives as well as three points of view. The novel starts with a deserted, forlorn wife writing to her husband, who has left her in Naples with their two young children and without money to live with his young mistress.

This opening is compelling and remarkably succinct, providing the tone of the novel.

In the second and longest part, we are in 2014 present-day life, several years later. Vanda and Aldo are in their seventies and back together, living in an apartment in Rome. One day, upon their return from holiday, the couple discovers that burglars have ransacked their place.

While rummaging through the wreckage, Aldo comes across old letters and photos linking him to his burdensome past. Flashbacks occur, revealing his version of the story.

In the third and probably saddest part, we have Anna’s version of the tale and how her parents’ relationship deeply affected her and her brother for life, both as children and adults.

The two of them are severely disturbed to see their father after returning home, submitting to his wife’s sadistic punishments and going through them in a masochistic way.

Starnone is demonstrating how the real victims of the parent’s separation are always the children. The unmarried Anna becomes a bitter and resentful woman like her mother and her brother Sandro who is married with children, does not seem happy nor having a fulfilled life.

As Jhumpa Lahiri mentions in her Introduction of Ties, the novel is constructed like “a series of Chinese boxes, one element of the plot discretely and impeccably nestled within the next”. The book has few characters, which creates a tight focus, spotlight like, on the protagonists and their problems.

The story is short, concise, sardonic and intensely emotional about family relationships, commitment, love, attrition, and infidelity. It is clearly, a dauntless approach revealing the several fissures of wedlock as an existing structure. In the story, the message conveyed by the author is conspicuous.

He efficiently presents the whole framework of marriage commitments as a debate noticeably without a solution to be had. Having existed since the dawn of time, it will always remain a problem society will eternally be confronted with as an insurmountable challenge.

As Voltaire said in Candide: “You have to cultivate your garden”, implying that each one of us has his part to play in life to make it work. However, would that have saved Vanda and Aldo’s marriage partnership or was it doomed to fail regardless?

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Category: Book Reviews
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