City Alessandro Baricco


City by Alessandro Baricco. Translated by Ann Goldstein. Publisher: Hamish Hamilton an imprint of Penguin Books ISBN 0-241-14010-x Set in 12/14.75 Monotype Dante.

I’ve read this book since I purchased it earlier this year in Gothemburg, Sweden, at a local second hand store in an area of Gothemburg known as Majorna. The store is called Ebbes Hörna and it supplies rather decent clothing and a myriad of hand-me-downs which include everything from flower bases to good reads like the present book for a rather reasonable price for those in need to make ends meet.

I got a hold of the book because the first time I came across Baricco was at my loca library here in the Swedish Highlands. The other book was as interesting as this one though I can not take credit for having read the whole book. That book was translated to  Spanish. Or maybe it was just the title of the book that snatched my eye, who knows.

I cannot fathom having read City in any other language other than English. At times a translation goes beyond the original and I believe this translation has managed to surpass the original though I cannot with certainty claim a comparison since I haven’t read the original in Italian. Then why do I state such a claim? Well, it’s easy. The language in the translation does a great service to the narrative in such a way that it makes it feel as if it belongs in that language. The language carries a cultural baggage that feels as if it were written in that specific language. Way to go Ann Goldstein. The thing about the book is that you get that sensation about the forties in the USA and smacks like a Bazooka Joe bubble gum wrapper all the fucking way. You can even smell the wrapper and imagine the cartoons being played before your eyes as you feel the wax paper being unfolded. The series opens up and the curiosity to read the cartoon builds up such an ecstasy that the gum, as you chew it, explodes with a super sweet flavor as one reads.

Though City gives a whiff of middle of the II World War in Dodge there is more to it. The scene is set before the Internet hit the scene. Comics ruled and editors got crap.

I like that air of noir and even more the muck in the language that gives way to philosophical observations about Monet’s Lilly’s to the short life of an idea and all its ramifications during its inception. The heteroglossia as described by Bakhtin is quite present though this is moreso in the thought patterns than speech as uttered by the characters in the novel.

This is a good read and merits all the time and care in it and I don’t say that lightly. Baricco is found of onomatopoeia. He sprinkles his language with synaesthetic symbolism. An example of such a use in the reading of the book occurs during a boxing match and the reader is made to imagine photographers taking pictures left and right. To produce this image, Baricco uses the word FLASH profusely. Furthermore, he has a way with language rules that render the reading a bit chaotic at times but this technique allows the reader to think beyond the letters on the page as imagination is triggered to visualize the actions at hand.



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