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Don’t Move by Margaret Mazzantini

When someone close to you dies or comes close to death, the moment comes into the soul with such force that nothing matters anymore. And, only in that moment do we really break down, we split open, we reveal all that is within us without limitation. It is the most jarring freedom.

Taking us to that edge is what Mazzantini does so well in Don’t Move. Timoteo, a wealthy Italian surgeon whose helmet-less teenage daughter has just been rushed to his hospital with fatal injuries from the crash of an automobile into her motor bike, is who we feel terrified with, guilty with, is who we could die along with if his daughter does. As she lies under the scalpel of Timoteo’s brain surgeon colleague, Timoteo’s grieving and submergence into the darkness of memory tracks that very real grief that many of us have not yet known.

Timoteo’s wife is in a plane on her way to London so Timoteo is able to hold fast to his daughter without being interrupted or having to console his wife. In his own tide of guilt and confusion, he speaks to his daughter. Timoteo confesses and understands himself like he has never before.

In examining this novel, other reviewers have clung to the idea that Mazzantini’s work is a tale of obsession. I disagree somewhat. This novel is about true grief, marriage, and human need. To say that it is a tale of obsession would mean that obsession is somehow uncommon, and I think it misses Mazzantini’s real point.

Certainly, readers will be surprised to learn that some 14 years earlier, before his daughter was born but 10 years into his marriage, Timoteo raped a lower-class woman in her apartment and later returned to her, continuing a romantic entourage for years. With the relationship between Timoteo and Italia, Mazzantini magnifies particular ugly parts of humanity. Yes, his whore’s name is Italia. At this time in Italian political history, the class consciousness survives here. With Italia, there is rape, abortion, adultery, molestation, and there is death. Through Italia’s death, Timoteo returns to the easy and synthetic world of his wife, his child and his work until his daughter is lying near death on the operating table, an operating table that he usually made simply into another day’s work. Again, through his child’s accident, he feels some of the same emotions he did with Italia — passion and fear. His emotions are piqued again. He returns active on the teeter-totter of humanity: “You entered our house the same evening I planned to leave her, and you swallowed up my destiny.”

The male voice is remarkable — and it’s interesting to see it through the writing of a woman that perhaps is the only one able to capture the emotional ferocity of this man’s soul.

Mazzantini’s prose is simple and yet she writes some of the most memorably poetic and truthful lines I have ever read. She has a gift of knowing relationships and the twist, tug and pull of old hearts. I only regret that I do not read Italian because reading her novel in English presented me with one of those moments when I knew that I was missing the sound of the poetry, the cadences.

Mazzantini’s American debut is hopefully a present gift with future promise to us all.