Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Purple Room by Mauro Casiraghi

Sergio recounts first-person his mid-life crisis that is brought on by a near death experience.  We follow the man as he searches for the truth behind a haunting memory.  The journey brings Sergio face to face with his life to date, including his fault behind his failed marriage, his fault behind the distant relationship with his teenaged daughter, and his disconnect with the world around him.

This is a psychological novel about happiness, memory, character, and modern life.  Memories are key to the story, and Sergio is convinced, like his mother, that cataloging one's life will keep the memories alive, along with the feelings associated with them.  But in the end, the feelings are the only things that remain accurate, with memories being fleeting and often distorted by those same feelings.  Sergio discovers that:
Memories that I thought were sacrosanct and untouchable turned out to be as fragile as skin and bones.

Sergio's elderly mother is a rock for him, but he's not an ideal son, perhaps because he is much like her, both obsessive-compulsive personalities.
My mom.  At seventy-two, she's still the one who keeps my feet on the ground.  When I notice that I'm losing touch with the real world, I go have lunch with her, and by the end of the afternoon I feel sane again.
I'm not so sure his mother feels the same way about the visits!
My mom is in the kitchen breading chicken breasts.  Every time I see her, she seems smaller, like a T-shirt that shrinks every time you wash it.  But her flashing eyes are still the same as in pictures from her youth.

Through the course of the book Sergio improves some aspects of his life, and comes to terms with other aspects, but he remains who he is.  This is very realistic, since realizations about one's self rarely lead to great changes.  Acceptance and minor adjustments are more the norm.  I applaud the author for writing realistically about modern people living modern lives.

In the case of this story, the people are all Italian, and living their lives in modern Italy, mostly around Rome.  In this excellent translation of an award-winning Italian book, daily life is depicted, including the horrible traffic, the forced sociability of trendy clubs and restaurants, the responsibilities of children for elderly parents, and even the early sexual experiences of teenagers in a highly sexualized Italian culture.

The character of Sergio is a difficult one to like, mainly because he is very life-like.  His near death experience creates some sympathy for his state of confusion, depression and memory loss.  But he is a neurotic, passive, introverted, insecure man who lacks moral fiber, which causes suffering for those around him.  Add to that his often awkward social skills, lack of understanding of others' feelings, and his near total self-absorption, and you get a very realist human being.

He's warned by an old friend against too much introspection and reflection on the past.  The friend advocates moments of starting over in life, making a clean slate, and creating a clean break from the pain in the past.
"Sometimes all it takes is memories to keep you tied down.  Chained.  What's in your head is enough to trap you"  It can keep you "clinging to what you have lost".
If you are an amateur psychologist, you'll enjoy this book even more than the average reader!  The author has a keen eye for human nature in all its absurdity, contradictions, goodness and cruelty.  There is some swearing, and there are some sexual scenes.  This is a quality book for Italophiles who don't romanticize Italy or Italians, who are open to the reality of modern Italy and modern Italians.

From the book's description:
A woman stands silhouetted against a window in a purple room. It’s the only memory Sergio has of the week leading up to the accident that almost killed him when he was scuba diving off the Tuscan coast. He remembers nothing else about that woman, but the love he feels for her drives him to delve into the mystery surrounding those days that are missing from his memory.

Hoping to find out who she is, Sergio gives up the lonely life he has lived ever since his painful divorce. It’s the beginning of an adventure that will take him from the streets of Rome to the Tuscan countryside. Along the way, Sergio explores his relationship with his sixteen-year-old daughter, his ex-wife and his friends, some of whom understand him better than others, but none of whom can truly help him on his quest to find the woman he loves. To do that, he must dive deep into his past, all the way down to the edge where the meaning of his entire life is as precarious as a bubble of air in the bloodstream.

"The Purple Room" is a magnetic and gripping psychological drama, filled with those moments of bittersweet comedy, misunderstanding and heartbreak that all too often punctuate every search for a partner. A journey of self-discovery, in which a deep and uncompromising self-awareness goes hand in hand with the universal desire to find someone to love.

Here is a direct link to the book at

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