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Woman of Rome: A Life of Elsa Moranteby Lily Tuck
Synopses & Reviews
Elsa Morante was born in 1912 to an unconventional family of modest means. She grew up with an independent spirit, a formidable will, and a commitment to writing—she wrote her first poem when she was just two years old. During World War II, Morante and her husband, the celebrated writer Alberto Moravia, were forced to flee occupied Rome—Moravia was half-Jewish (as was she) and wanted by the Fascists—and hide out in a remote mountain hut. After the war, Morante published a series of prize-winning novels, including Arturo's Island and History, a seminal account of the war, which established her as one of the leading Italian writers of her day.
Lily Tuck's elegant and unusual biography also evokes the heady time during the postwar years when Rome was the film capital of the world and Morante's counted among her circle of friends the filmmakers Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, and the young Bernardo Bertolucci. A charismatic and beautiful woman, Morante had a series of love affairs—most unhappy—as well as friendships with such famous literary luminaries as Carlo Levi, Italo Calvino, and Natalia Ginzburg. As a couple, Morante and Moravia—the Beauvoir-Sartre of Italy—captivated the nation with their intense and mutual admiration, their arguments, and their passion.
Wonderfully researched with the cooperation of the Morante Estate, filled with personal interviews, and written in graceful and succinct prose, Woman of Rome introduces the American reader to a woman of fierce intelligence, powerful imagination, and original talent.
"Novelist Elsa Morante and the city she symbolized come alive in this warm, sprightly literary biography. Novelist Tuck (The News from Paraguay) surveys Morante's life: her troubled relationship with an unstable mother; her salad days writing magazine pieces along with having to occasionally resort to prostitution to make a living; World War II, when she and husband, Alberto Moravia, both half-Jewish, hid out from Fascist persecution in a mountain village; her postwar dolce vita immersed in friendships, affairs and dinner-table debates with Rome's glitterati. Morante emerges as a complex, vibrant character — difficult, mercurial and fiercely (often rudely) devoted to truth-telling, but also kindhearted and charismatic. Tuck ties the biographical details — and analyses of her subject's dreams and handwriting — to sympathetic but critical analyses of Morante's protean works, which include the hothouse melodrama of House of Liars, the darkly beguiling Huckleberry Finn fable of Arturo's Island and the pitiless meditation on force and corruption of her bestselling History. Tuck sets the life in a colorful evocation of Morante's milieu, enlivened by her own youthful reminiscences of Italy's postwar film scene, that makes the book a love letter to Rome as well as to her subject. Photos. (July 29) Do you associate Texas with architectural heritage? You will after taking a look at these two books (which will be joined in September by The Homes of the Park Cities Abbeville, $75 495p ISBN 978-0-7892-0976-4; 325 color photos; 75 maps and archival images)." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
When Lily Tuck was a young girl, in the late 1940s and '50s, she spent her summers with her father, a movie producer who had settled in Rome. As a member of the leftist Cineclub, which showed avant-garde films weekly, Rodolphe Solmsen crossed paths with the city's intelligentsia, including husband-and-wife novelists Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante. Tuck herself eventually met Moravia once, yet she... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) never met Morante, author of the magical novel "Arturo's Island" (1957), which she had read as a girl — a missed opportunity that apparently still haunts. Moravia, a severe chronicler of adult ennui and betrayals, is well known internationally since many of his books have served as the bases for feature films ("The Conformist," "Two Women," "Contempt"). However, Morante, whose visionary prose, with its deliberately antiquated locutions, frequently concerns the interior states of childhood and the relationships of parents and children, is largely unfamiliar outside Italy. Italian republication of her collected works in 1988 and 1990 and a series of exhibitions and seminars in 2005 and 2006 as well as the reissue of William Weaver's English translation of "History" (1974), Morante's biggest, bleakest and most controversial novel, have brought her some renewed recognition. Tuck's compact yet richly informative "Woman of Rome" is a product of extensive research worn lightly and of literary analysis endearingly constructed to sound like a letter or extended journal entry. But "Woman of Rome" is also a personal essay about the flights and vicissitudes attendant on a life, especially a woman's life, devoted to the imagination. It is written as if the spirit of Morante — who died in 1985 at age 73 and who wrote that "the private life of a writer is gossip and gossip no matter about whom offends me" — were reading over Tuck's shoulder. Tuck, who won the National Book Award for her novel "The News From Paraguay," approaches her subject through marmoreal (and, all too often, psychoanalytic) summaries. For instance, "As a writer Elsa Morante always focused on the traumas of despotic, egotistical and narcissistic love." Yet happily she also supplies resonant biographical details: Morante's lifelong insistence that she wished she'd been born a boy; her indulgence in argument as a blood sport in service of scalding honesty; the fairy-tale images of her dreams; her emphasis in her writing on the paradise of transforming love, despite her own tortured love affairs off the page. Morante was beautiful and, in her peak years, stylishly dressed, but she never lost her consciousness of childhood poverty and thought of herself as flawed. By his own account, her husband, who extolled her as a genius, was not in love with her and let her know it in piercing little ways, provoking Morante to humiliate him in turn. They had an open marriage, with each taking lovers, yet the couple was bonded by the great event of their life together: a nine-month period they spent in hiding in a remote village during the early 1940s, when Moravia, already a successful novelist and outspoken leftist, was on the run from the fascists. (Moravia's father was Jewish, as was Morante's mother.) Perhaps to signal the paradoxes of her subject's character, Tuck's references to her are unpredictable: Sometimes she is "Elsa Morante," sometimes "Elsa." ("Morante" also appears, although the context — almost invariably a moment relating to sex — makes it seem like a reproof.) Or it may be that this and several other inconsistencies in Tuck's writing (a trip to Sant'Agata recounted in different ways, Morante's hair color described variously) reflect the haste — a mere two years — with which the book was researched and written. If so, it's a pity that the author couldn't be given more time to present her deeply felt story at its best. Morante counted among her close friends the filmmakers Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Bernardo Bertolucci. "Woman of Rome" contains telling anecdotes of them all: Among its many virtues is the way it fills us in on the glamour (and cruelties) of postwar Rome. Still, the ultimate virtue here is Tuck's almost daughterly effort to demonstrate how Morante's writing can excite a reader today, and why this unhappy yet vital artist, ultimately married to solitude, ought to be remembered, without scumbling the harsher aspects of the woman's personality. Tuck also extends her sense of fair play to Morante's lovers and friends, beginning with Moravia, one of whose novels is alluded to in the title of this lovely and worthy biography, the first of Morante to appear in any language. Reviewed by Mindy Aloff, who is the author of 'Dance Anecdotes' and 'Hippo in a Tutu' and who teaches at Barnard College, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Book News Annotation:
Elsa Morante, Italian author of such noted works as Arturo's Island and History, is the subject of this biography, written in cooperation with the Morante Estate. Morante and her husband writer Alberto Moravia--here referred to as "the Beauvoir-Sartre of Italy"--fled occupied Rome during World War II and later, in the creative Rome of the 1950s, cavorted with Pasolini, Visconti, Bertolucci, Levi, Calvino, and Ginzburg. With a clear and vivid voice, Tuck paints a vivid picture of a passionate writer and woman in challenging and extraordinary times. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
"Woman of Rome" represents the first biography of an Italian literary icon who is revered in her native country and admired abroad, by the National Book Award-winning author of "The News from Paraguay." 16-page b&w photo insert.
About the Author
Lily Tuck is the author of four novels, including The News from Paraguay, winner of the National Book Award for Fiction, and Siam, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist, as well as a collection of stories. She divides her time among New York, an island in Maine, and Paris.
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