Lo chiamavano Blacmàn e immediatamente tutti capivano chi fosse. Prima ancora del nome o di una fama qualsiasi, veniva quell'aspetto da zingaro quale in fondo era, da prestigiatore da quattro soldi: un uomo con mani grandi abbastanza solo per suonartele, ma non per prendere la vita come si deve. Blacmàn era lui senza possibilità d'errore, e avrebbe messo quasi paura se non fosse stato anche il tipo ridicolo che sapevo io: per i suoi centimetri scarsi quanto quelli d'un ragazzo senza sviluppo, i vestiti attillati e a strisce di colore buoni a dare impaccio piú che allegria, i baffi a manubrio tenuti lisci e rigidi come quelli d'un sovrano senza terra, e i capelli a cespuglio, uguali al pelo degli animali che in calore se lo caricano di lappole nei giardini. Ridicolo, come forse tutti avevano il diritto di credere tranne io, anche se piú di tutti lo pensavo cosí, vergognandomi d'averne preso il sangue e le ossa.
Blacmàn era mio padre. E da quando ho cominciato a capire, non ho fatto altro che cercare prove e controprove di un'orfanezza, prima nei centimetri che mettevo, poi nella moralità di mia madre. (p. 12, iPad iBooks e-edition)
Italian writer Elisa Ruotolo's 2014 Premio Strega-longlisted title, Ovunque, proteggici (Everywhere, Protect is the translated title), is on its surface a family history/mystery. Set in the aftermath of World War II, the novel details the search of an man, Lorenzo, for clues into his family's past, especially for his father, who disappeared one day. While this plot device is rather familiar to readers, Ruotolo does add other elements to it to make it an interesting, worthwhile read.
One strength of Ovunque, proteggici is its ability to take interesting characters and to weave them in and out of the main plot in order to create a fascinating backdrop. The Girosa family for five generations have striven to make their way in a world that seems to be set against them. As Lorenzo explores his family's past in order to understand why his father Blacmàn disappeared during World War II, we begin to see how his ancestors' pasts have shaped his life. From a grandfather who went to America to try to ply a trade and to send remittances home to his father becoming a jester of sorts and his mother a runaway, Lorenzo's family is full of characters who have failed and then started anew, with each permutation of failure and meager success adding to the tale.
With so many fascinating characters, Ruotolo easily could have overwhelmed the plot with flashbacks and backstories. Yet for the most part, these interesting characters enrich the plot, making Lorenzo's investigation into his father's past more than just another bog standard missing father/family history procedural. By the time the novel concluded, it felt as though Ruotolo had achieved two seemingly divergent things at once: an intimate novel that also manages to contain universal appeal to those who did not grow up under the oppressive weight of family history.
Although my Italian is a bit rudimentary, I did find Ruotolo's prose to be relatively easy to follow. Lorenzo's first-person account of his investigations is concise, never feeling too distant or grandiose for the narrative. This results in a narrative that flowed smoothly, telling a fascinating story without ever seeming to get in the way of the unfolding tale. Ovunque, proteggici is a novel that I will likely revisit in years to come, as I am curious to see what else might be revealed on a re-read, as it seems there are depths to it that I failed to explore on my initial read.