I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in an apartment above his mother and below his ex-wife, and religiously eats boiled vegetables every day for lunch at the same cafe at the same table. Claudio spends over two years obsessing about Cecilia, a doctor and fellow colleague, until the day he is able to stutter out his profession of love for her, only to proceed in engaging with her in his car a safe distance from the hospital where they work. Following and/or during this engagement (not clear), Claudio also stumbles into a relationship with Cecilia’s sister, Silva, who shortly thereafter learns she is expecting. These ingredients and known plot “twists” are the makings of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, except with a passive protagonist as a stand-in for McDreamy. Disappointingly, no attempts were really made to make the characters compelling or interesting beyond those of our typical hour-long sitcoms located in hospitals in Seattle and Los Angeles. The only interesting twist was that this hospital is located in a suburb of a large Italian city, and with that comes the typical romantic stereotypes.

After working through Three Light-Years with determination and perseverance, I tried to identify other works that had truly passive protagonist. Honestly, the best I could conjure up were the isolated, solitude-loving types, but not ones who barely cross the barrier of being a prop and being a plot driver like dear Claudio. Perhaps that is the beauty of this work. However, the reader will likely remain skeptical of this model and distance themselves from the work because the reader is never provided with any insights into what is motivating the characters’ actions and decisions, or rather mistakes and poor choices. This is no surprise as the work seemed wholly unconcerned about the reader and more concerned presenting the the narcissistic tendencies of the two antagonists, the two sisters who stumble into affairs with Claudio without any analysis, question, or notion of attraction for him. Further, the reader will have to experience the same episode of the well-known sitcom not only from Claudio’s prop-like existence, but also from Cecila’s and Silva’s perspectives as well.

What was compelling and redeeming about Three Light-Years were the anecdotes about life peppered through the work at just the level to motivate the steadfast reader to continue. The following quotes provide a few examples:

“. . . [T]here is no present that is of greater interest to me than that distant past that I did not experience, about which I know almost nothing, and which I continue to imagine, fabricating other people’s memories.”

“As a general rule, it’s always best to know as little as possible about other people’s business. Not that it’s difficult to keep the things you accidentally come to know to yourself and pretend you know nothing. But even if you pretend not to know, you do know, and your life is invaded by the lives of others.”

“Memory is unfair . . . the person remembering is now older anymore disillusioned and forgetful than the young, deluded, determined protagonist of her memories. That’s why memory is unfair.”

Perhaps I have been reading too much Cesar Aira lately, but I appreciate being captivated by the awkward or self-imposed solitude of the characters of his works. This requires insights into the inner thoughts and motivations of those characters. Without being provided with such insights, the reader has to really justify why he or she has read Three Light-Years and, more importantly, whether engagement with the work was even possible.

Comments are disabled for this article.


Three-Light Years
By Andrea Canobbio
Translated by Anne Milano Appel
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols
hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN: 9780374278908
The Odyssey
The Odyssey by Homer
Reviewed by Peter Constantine

Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.

–(The Odyssey, Book I, line 10. Emily Wilson)

In literary translation of works from other eras, there are always two basic tasks that a translator needs. . .

Read More >

I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >