Ties that Confine [BTBA 2018]

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Lori Feathers, co-owner of Interabang Books in Dallas, TX. She’s also a freelance book critic and member of the National Book Critics Circle. Her recent reviews can be found at Words Without Borders, Full Stop, World Literature Today, Three Percent, Rain Taxi, and on Twitter @LoriFeathers. Worth noting that Starnone has another book—Trick—eligible for the 2019 BTBA.


Ties by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri (Europa Editions)

The Italian author Domenico Starnone appears to be a guy with a lot going for him, not least the talented women in his life: his purported wife is none other than Anita Raja (aka, Elena Ferrante); and, the versatile author Jhumpa Lahiri is his English translator. Not to mention that Starnone is a smart and entertaining author in his own right. Starnone’s slim novel Ties is a testament to that fact.

Ties is the story of a fifty-two-year-long marriage that sustained the blow of infidelity but decades later still lists sharply to starboard from the impact. The book is divided into three sections with alternating first-person narrators: wife Vanda, husband Aldo, and daughter Anna. Vanda’s section looks back to the time when Aldo confessed his affair with a nineteen-year-old student at the university where he teaches and moved out of their house, leaving Vanda to raise the couple’s two children alone for several years. The action in sections two and three takes place in the present with Vanda and Aldo, now in their seventies, returning after a vacation to find their home ransacked.

Starnone has a masterful way of depicting the fragility of domestic relationships with egos, vulnerabilities, and self-interested bargaining swirling about to create conflict and disappointment. Perhaps most impressive is the way that he builds a quiet but palpable sense of tension in the situation that the family’s dysfunction has created. Ties is a compelling read that takes a rather ordinary extramarital affair as its premise but executes on it to original and extraordinary effect.

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