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Lost Hearts in Italyby Andrea Lee
Synopses & Reviews
The Italian phrase Mai due senza tre — "never two without three" — forms the basis of Andrea Lee's spellbinding novel of betrayal. Sophisticated and richly told, Lost Hearts in Italy reveals a trio caught in the grip of desire, deception, and remorse.
When Mira Ward, an American, relocates to Rome with her husband, Nick, she looks forward to a time of exploration and awakening. Young, beautiful, and in love, Mira is on the verge of a writing career, and giddy with the prospect of living abroad. On the trip over, Mira meets Zenin, an older Italian billionaire, who intrigues Mira with his coolness and worldly mystique. A few weeks later, feeling idle and adrift in her new life, Mira agrees to a seemingly innocent lunch with Zenin and is soon catapulted into an intense affair, which moves beyond her control more quickly than she intends. Her job as a travel writer allows clandestine trysts and opulent getaways with Zenin to Paris, Monte Carlo, London, and Venice, and over the next few years, now the mother of a baby daughter, she struggles between resisting and relenting to this man who has such a hold on her. As her marriage erodes, so too does Mira's sense of self, until she no longer resembles the free spirit she was on her arrival in the Eternal City. Years later, Mira and Nick, now divorced and remarried to others, look back in an attempt to understand their history, while a detached Zenin assesses his own life and his role in the unlikely love triangle. Each recounts the past, aided by those witness to their failure and fallout.
An elegant, raw, and emotionally charged read, Lost Hearts in Italy is a classic coming-of-age story in whichcultures collide, innocence dissolves, and those we know most intimately remain foreign to us.
"The publicity material that accompanies 'Lost Hearts in Italy' announces that this is Andrea Lee's 'first novel in over twenty years,' which makes the author sound like some kind of venerable recluse, but her 'Russian Journal' was nominated for the National Book Award when she was in her late twenties, so she's still as hip as hip can be. This novel, set, of course, in Italy, reads like... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) an uber-travelogue for sophisticates who read Vanity Fair and Vogue, who set great store by designer clothes, the very best food, luxury hotels and the insidious glamour of literature and history — as opposed to their dry footnotes. That includes most of us, some of the time, at some level, but Andrea Lee takes this material much more seriously than most. She drowns her narrative in lush, lustful sentences of longing — for delicious places, delicious things. Here's an example, before we get to character or plot: 'He lectures Nick about everything from the weeping Heraclitus to the latest scandals in the Craxi government. About ancient and modern heroes: the bloody last stand of the Italic League rebels against the war machine of Sulla's legions at Sentinum; Di Pietro nowadays, battering at the tawdry gilt fortress constructed by the villains of Tangentopoli. Talks as well with lubricious anatomical specificity about the women he is seeing (this summer, a surgeon's wife from Modena, convent educated, insatiable).' And here's a glimpse of a couple together toward the end of their affair: 'Just beginning to have habits outside of the rituals of secrecy. An early spring weekend around Venice; driving up from Verona under a colorless drizzling sky; stopping to poke around in a junk shop owned by a feral-looking mad marchese; pausing in Mestre to eat thumbnail-size raw shrimp at Da Angelina; a night at the Gritti Palace.' Yum! Who needs a plot when you've got 'a feral-looking mad marchese'? Who needs to know the particulars of the 'he' who is lecturing Nick about 'Sulla's legions at Sentinum'? There is a plot, though, and it turns out to be as ancient as those Seven Hills of Rome. In the mid-1980s, a perfect-seeming, just-married American couple journey to Rome, to embark on their life's great adventure. They're East Coast, Harvard-educated. He is Nick: decent, intelligent, kind, madly handsome with ice-blue eyes. She is Mira. (Forgive me, but I just have to point out: That would be 'Mira' as in the Spanish 'look here,' and Mira as in 'mirror,' to reflect.) Mira is mulatto, and in terms of electricity, she's 220 volts as opposed to her husband's more appropriate and American 110. Mira is described variously as beautiful and ordinary looking. Her sense of style carries an insistent intimation of irritation; she's either underdressed or overdressed or undressed, but however she displays herself, she drives (some) men absolutely wild. As in so many novels about naive Americans who put in with wily Europeans, Nick and Mira will lose their innocence and undergo great pain, but Mira herself will inflict some serious damage. It is Mira, who, traveling alone to meet her husband in Rome, is upgraded to first class and thus encounters the elderly, rapacious billionaire Zenin, who has clawed his way out of rough Italian peasant stock and now owns a little bit of almost everything on Earth. He has rough table manners, an enormous yacht, a mother who embarrasses him, a wife of good family whom he's divorced, a mistress who has given him a son he adores, and he's already had sex with a sizable portion of the entire female population of Europe. Now, if you were a curious, adventurous young woman with (what seems like) your whole life ahead of you, which man would you pick? Seriously. Beautiful blond men who adore you and who are moving steadily up in their careers are a dime a dozen, metaphorically speaking, but there may be only 50 monsters like Zenin in the whole wide world. Mira walks down that Madame Bovary path. She goes for the forbidden and the wicked. She loves the wealth, the secrecy, the glamour, the byzantine trysts — all the seductive paraphernalia of adultery, with the garish yacht thrown in. You know this isn't going to end well. Mira manages to get herself and everybody else in a peck of trouble. Even Zenin is dealt somebody blows from which he may never fully recover. Nick suffers long and horribly. Evidently, it isn't enough to look like a strong young god from the American Northeast or to rack up a fortune, which, though not comparable to Zenin's, becomes vast by the end of the novel. Mira shatters his sense of entitlement, perhaps forever. How does 'Lost Hearts in Italy' actually end? It doesn't matter. The 'lost hearts' in the title are subordinate in every way to Italy, which is praised to the skies here, passionately constructed for readers who can only dream of such richness. During that lull of 20 or so years between 'Russian Journal' and this novel, Lee met and married an Italian count, which allows the reader to believe that this paean to a great and mysterious culture is both authentic and right on the money." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who may be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Each enrapturing scene shimmers with sensual, psychological, and historical nuance. Each encounter is choreographed with the deadly elegance and precision of a fencing match." Booklist
From National Book Award nominee Lee comes a lush, sophisticated novel about a young American abroad in Rome caught in the center of a heated love triangle.
About the Author
Andrea Lee was born in Philadelphia and received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard University. She is a former staff writer for the New Yorker, and her fiction and nonfiction writing has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine and The New York Times Book Review. She is the author of Russian Journal, the novel Sarah Phillips, and the short story collection Interesting Women. She lives with her husband and two children in Turin, Italy.
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