Friday, 22 March 2013

Book Review: Follow Your Heart by Susanna Tamaro

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0749396970/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=0749396970&linkCode=as2&tag=editsmisc00-21
This week the question of old age has been a lot on my mind and it made me think of an Italian novel that I had read a couple of years ago:  Follow Your Heart (Va dove ti porta il cuore) by Susanna Tamaro. I liked it very much although doing research I found out that it's quite a controversial book among readers. Some love it, some hate it, but I reckon that this isn't really unusal. After all, there's no accounting for tastes and Follow Your Heart certainly isn't the kind of book that most people would expect judging from the title.

Susanna Tamaro, a niece of Italo Svevo, was born in Trieste, Italy, in December 1957. She graduated from a teachers’ training college and moved to Rome to attend a film directing course. After her studies she worked as an assistant to film director Salvatore Samperi and started her own film career making several TV documentaries. Her first novels and short stories were rejected until La testa fra le nuvole (The Head in the Clouds) was published in 1989 and awarded the Elsa Morante prize. Then followed the likewise prize-winning collection of short stories For Solo Voice (Per voce sola), a children’s book and eventually, in 1994, Follow Your Heart that soon advanced to the most successful Italian novel of the century. The writer’s later works including children’s books, memoirs and novels – among them Listen to My Voice, a sequel to Follow Your Heart – received less acclaim from critics and readers. Susanna Tamaro is living in the countryside near Ovieto, Italy. 

The novel Follow Your Heart tells the life story of Olga, a woman in her eighties who is living alone in her house in Trieste since her nameless granddaughter went to America. Olga suffers from the after-effects of a heart attack and feels that her end is near, but she still has so much to say and to explain to her granddaughter. So Olga decides to write the unhappy, angry and disturbed young woman a series of twelve letters. Those letters are a confession, a diary, a last will – or the balance of a long life scattered with mistakes. Olga talks about her childhood, her marriage, her big secret love for the father of her daughter Ilaria (who hasn’t been her husband), about the sudden death of her lover and her despair that followed, about her difficult relations with her daughter who never felt loved and who confused Olga, about the sudden death of Ilaria when her granddaughter wasn’t yet four years old, about the childhood of the granddaughter and the rejection she experienced from her side when she was older. All in all, Olga explains everything that made her the woman she is, that made her act the way she did. And in the end she rediscovers herself and gives her grand-daughter the advice not to repeat her mistakes, to always listen to her heart and to follow it. 

Writing Follow Your Heart as an epistolary novel Susanna Tamaro chose a literary form that may not be appreciated by all readers, in the new millennium even less than in 1994 when it was first published. I’m used to reading letters, but to someone who isn’t the novel may seem rather outdated. Also the letters often feel admonishing, something that most modern readers don’t particularly like. However, the warnings seem very appropriate considering that they come from a woman in her eighties who wishes to pass on some of her worldly wisdom to her granddaughter. The resigned and detached language of the letters too appears very authentic to me. Certainly many personal experiences of Susanna Tamaro, who has been raised by her grandmother, have slipped into this novel. 

As for me, I’ve always had a strong liking for practical philosophy and for letters. It’s also interesting to learn more about how other generations grew up and lived although in this case the author couldn’t know it from her own experience. At any rate, I enjoyed the read very much and am ready to recommend Follow Your Heart to everybody who has a certain inclination to ponder the ups and downs of life.

10 comments:

  1. Edith,
    This looks like a wonderful book! I love the way you did the review too. I am your newest follower. I found you at book blogs site. I hope you will follow me back please. Thank you ~Lauren http://ureadmorebooks.blogspot.com

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    1. Hello Lauren! Thanks for the praise. Seems that I'm on the right track...
      I followed you back since at first sight your blog seems to be the kind I like.

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  2. I'm so glad to see a Tamaro review on your blog! I read and reviewed "Il grande albero" back in early February. It's a middle grade book, but I read it in Italian so it was a perfect level for me. Loved it, it was just beautiful. I need to check out "Follow Your Heart" - thanks for reviewing it!

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    1. I read 'Va dove ti porta il cuore' in Italian, too -- with vocabulary help because my Italian isn't so good ;) I'm glad to see that my review made you consider 'Follow Your Heart' as a read. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. I´m reading this book again after several years and it´s amazing. I love the way it´s been written and one of the reasons why I absolutely adore this book is related to the fact that many of the thoughts correlate to me. What is interesting is that when I firts read it, it didn´t appeal that much to me but for some reasons I never forgot about it. Now, reading it again, I know why. It´s interesting how a book can have little meaning to the reader at one point in life, while later in life to book may reveal itself in a totally new way. This has been the case with "Follow Your Heart". Have it next to me on the work desk right now. :)

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    1. Yes, it's true that we can dislike a book at one point in life and love it at another. I think that there is always the right moment for a book... As for me, often my intuition tells me to pick a certain book - often it had remained in my shelves for years unopened and unread - and then I find that it's just what I needed at that moment. Follow Your Heart may require a certain "maturity" and life experience to be able to really appreciate it. I rfirst ead it when I was in my thirties and I loved it at once. Thanks for your comment!

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